The single word that changed my life

word that changed my life

By Mark Schaefer

The headline for today’s post is not sensational or exaggerated. There really was one single word that changed my life and I’d like to tell you that story today.

When I was in my 20s, I was brimming with ambition and determination. I was smart and a hard worker, so my early career successes were constantly rewarded. In fact, my company was aggressively pushing me forward with promotions and weighty new responsibilities.

I thrived in this environment but it was highly stressful. I was moving up the company so fast that I was almost always the youngest person in the room. At one point, I was managing a $1.5 billion account before I was 30 years old. Every day I faced a situation where I wondered “What am I doing here?”

The confidence the company placed in me was motivational and exhilarating. The sky was the limit and I was happy to be zooming up the company organizational chart.

But this furious pace of progress took a toll on me. Having so much responsibility at such a young age forced me to work harder to compensate for my lack of experience. By the time I was 35 I was in one of the most stressful global marketing jobs in the company and struggled to find moments of happiness. It seemed like I aways had to be “on” and with the advent of mobile technology, there was no escaping work and endless customer demands.

The Crosby Effect

Robert P. Crosby

Robert P. Crosby

I had the great fortune of being selected for an extraordinary management training program that introduced me to Robert Crosby. Bob became one of the most important influences in my life. He had this inner glow and mesmerizing presence that made an impact on all who met him.

He had a fascinating background as civil rights activist in the 1960s and later, he was ordained as a Christian minister. When I met him, he was in the business world teaching classes in organizational development intended to propel my company’s next generation of leaders.

The training program involved tearing deep into our personal family backgrounds to uncover subtle dysfunctions that might limit our leadership potential. I was uncomfortable with this “touchy-feely” stuff and had a hard time expressing anything close to vulnerability at that point in my life. I wanted to be seen as a competent, stoic leader and I had built a strong psychological fortress to keep it that way.

But Bob continued to challenge me. I could see by his example that openness and even humble vulnerability could be a strength. It helped me and the other leaders in the program trust him and connect in a powerful way.

The word that changed my life

Bob relentlessly attacked my fortress for weeks. One day he provoked me by asking, “What is the emotion you feel most in your life?”

The answer was obvious — ANXIETY. What else would I be feeling being in this dumb program when there was so much to be done at work and at home?

In fact, I figured if you’re an effective business leader, you really didn’t have a choice. If you were hustling through a career, wouldn’t everybody in my position feel anxiety all the time?

I was probably being a bit of a smart-ass as I turned the tables and asked Bob the same question —  What emotion did he experience most of the time? Without hesitation, he looked at me with his twinkling blue eyes and said:

“Joy.”

This one word literally took my breath away … because I knew it was true. This man clearly lived a life of constant joy (It was not unusual for Bob to enter a crowded restaurant and break into a stirring rendition of his favorite song, “Oh Danny Boy“).

In that instant, with one word, I set a new goal for my life. I wanted to experience life the way Bob did. I wanted to chart a path away from anxiety and learn to prioritize joy.

And so my journey began. I approached the training classes with a new openness and looked at the opportunity to learn from Bob as a precious gift instead of a burden.

The path continues

It took time to un-learn my old habits and shed a lot of baggage that was pushing “anxiety” to the top of my emotional hit parade. I had to learn how to stay centered and confident in stressful and emotional situations. I learned to better balance work life with healthy activities that helped neutralize corporate stress.

I miss those days with Bob, who just turned 90 and recently retired. I’ve been through a lot of tough times since then but I could still hear his gentle wisdom in my brain nudging me to make decisions that would help me find peace in my heart. Where would I be without him?

And I’m still learning. In 2016, I stopped looking at the financial results of my business and instead decided to choose projects that would create joy. I found that I am really good at being a “mini-Bob” and helping others through stressful business challenges, so I make it a priority to reach out to people who might be struggling.

I could be making a lot more money by making other decisions, but then I would not be as joyful.

If you ever watch a video interview with me from my office, you’ll undoubtedly notice a big silver word — “joy” — in my office to remind me to stay on the path.

I still hit bumps in the road like everyone else, but I’m proud to say that I’ve reached my goal. On this day, in this moment, my primary emotion is “joy.”

I hope it is for you, too.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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