THE BLOG

What Would Happen If You Had a Blank Canvas?

06/22/2015 01:35 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2016

One of the biggest shifts that is happening in our world today, and there are many, is that many people are starting to wake up to the fact that life is precious and that we have choices. It's happening every day and taking place quietly especially with people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are starting to question the judgement system that society has instilled in us.

Many are achieving career "success" and are questioning whether "this is it." They have the corner office (or cube), the salary, the big title and the 24/7 hour on-demand jobs that go with it. And their employers are starting to offer meditation and mindfulness classes as a way for them to figure out their mythical work-life balance. Maybe learning to be still and enjoy the present moment will make all of us better workers?

In my previous corporate life, I worked with many successful people. I also traveled with them and some years, I think we saw more of each other than our families. We were committed to the success of the company and did whatever it took to make our contributions. We didn't spend so many years getting a great education not to put it into use. And on a trip to Singapore, one of my colleagues was really down. When I asked him what happened, he told me that when he was leaving for the airport, his youngest son had a melt down and told him that he hates [insert company name] and wished he didn't have to work there. It appears that it was a long weekend in Canada and with the time difference, Paul had to leave early to get to Singapore in time for the meeting. His son didn't understand what could be so important to separate a father from his sons so frequently.

It's About Choices

When we have our physical and mental health, we can do anything. The only person that gets in our way is ourselves and the stories we tell ourselves. In this story, my colleague was waiting for a promotion to his "next" coveted step on the corporate ladder. He was told that if he put in his time, he would get that magical title, salary and prestige. But what they forgot to tell him was that he would never get that time back with his sons. That was gone forever.

It is not a question of work-life balance any more or even work life integration, which seems like the next story people are telling themselves. It's about how we want to show up in the world. We spend too much time preparing for want we want to be when we grow up and not enough time on who we are, what we love and what we don't love.

The shift that is happening with people in the 40-60 age range is one of hope and opportunity. If we put aside the disappointment that life didn't turn out the way we were told it would and imagine that we have choice, what would happen?

Please Stop It

What's happening today is we have conditioned ourselves to numb ourselves with technology, food and being busy. Our fast food culture at work that focuses on efficiency and productivity metrics has killed our ability to create, innovate and more importantly, co-create with others inside or outside our corporate walls.

And what's the solution of the day? A seven-day sleep away camp to detox ourselves from technology. Technology hasn't done anything to us. Technology can be life changing when we know how to integrate it into our lives. I know it has changed mine on so many levels by connecting me to people around the world that I could talk to so easily.

I often get asked after I deliver a keynote on the future of work, why I didn't talk about the robots. My answer is that I did by sharing that in the 21st century, we need to create human centered organizations where people are at the heart of business. And that we already have a semi-robotic workforce where decisions are not being made in a 9-5 culture. We need to wake ourselves up from thinking that we are not in control. If you sat with yourself and honestly asked yourself, "where am I am giving my power away and to who?" what would you learn?

I can't offer you the five-step road to success because I don't know you. The first step is to do the hard work and ask yourself some important questions. And it is so easy to reach out to people now because of technology. We live in an open and connected world and we can choose to be isolated or we can choose to find people who we can co-create with. I just co-authored an article for the London Business School Review with an amazing new friend who I only met on a video chat. Tap into your 7-year-old imagination and you'd be amazed at the courage and curiosity you will find within yourself.

And please, stop it. Stop telling yourself it's hard. Stop telling yourself why you can't do something. Please stop believing the stories you are being told by people who don't know you about how to live your life. Please change the story you tell yourself and then the one you tell others.

Your Canvass

I was a "speed mentor" at a recent local event and I had seven minutes to give some advice to the participants. I heard many stories from people who wanted help and believe me, seven minutes is not a long time. I didn't prescribe solutions but asked questions so I can be as helpful as possible. Most of the people who were willing to listen, looked at me and said "wow, I didn't know that I had the answers I have been seeking around me." And the ones who were looking for the quick fix were not satisfied by my mentorship.

Too often we wake up when there is a crisis or a major life change. The time is now. Ask yourself:

  • How are you showing up in the world? Are you a whole person who has a life and then work or are you trying to balance two separate selves (professional and personal)?
  • What do you want to create in your world? And what did your 7-year-old dream of?
  • What is your lifework?
  • What does making a living mean to you?

And then, imagine you had a blank canvass, regardless of what age you are, what would you put on it?