Fair doesn't mean equal.

My boss is a Navy SEAL and he recently made the comment to me that “fair does not mean equal”. Meaning he will treat our team fairly, but it does not mean he will treat us equally. He has told me that SEAL training is less about physical aptitude and more about the mental grit to overcome continuous “bad breaks”, one after the next. I believe life is the same way.

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Life does not care what your backstory is. Life does not care where you came from, who you are currently, what you’ve done in the past, or why you have struggles. She is the ultimate ambivalent playing field. Life does not innately favor some and persecute others. She does, however, reward those who take action in their life. It’s the people who choose to live with an indomitable human spirit, help others selflessly, and take responsibility for their own circumstances; they tend to get to move forward in a positive fashion. The ‘passengers’ of life get to move forward as well, but contrary to the action takers, they get the leftovers of those who carve out and shape their path.

I have done a lot of career counseling with younger people and my biggest wish for them is to understand, as early as possible that they get to pick the life they want. My girlfriend recently reminded me that life doesn't happen to us, it happens for us. I look at people getting into the corporate life after college, or trade school, or their masters and doctorate programs, and ask them to think about the job they are about to take. Are they looking at it as a ‘job’ or as a ‘career’?

Jobs are the things we do when we aren’t deeply invested and don't really consider the tasks relevant to our expected life. These people look back on their life and say they never found their passion or their ‘career’. They, at best, do the required work to satisfy their responsibilities and then go home unfulfilled and disenchanted about the career they don't have. They generally exert the minimum effort required to earn their paycheck. They dread Monday’s, painfully endure the workweek, and get overly excited about the weekends. They essentially tolerate 5 days a week so they can enjoy 2 days. This makes my heart hurt.

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People who I classify as being on their career path, are the people who were fortunate enough to have found their passion early in life or, more likely, they are doing the same ‘job’ as the person above, but see the bigger picture. They pour themselves in relentlessly to what they are doing, despite the task. It’s really just a change in attitude. These people look at their job as an opportunity to put their best signature on their life. They realize that the work they accomplish is a reflection of who they are. They show up early, stay late, and look for opportunities to do a little extra. They see the ‘job’ they are doing not as the final state or their peak potential, they look at it as a stepping stone to the next challenge, the next position, and hopefully something closer to what they will consider a career.      

Regardless of your current field of employment, choose to look at it as a piece of your career path and not just a simple job.

We all fail. I recently heard a clip from Jim Carrey where he discusses a lesson he learned from his father. The story was about how his father had a passion for playing music, but because of a need to support his family, he set aside that passion, moved to the US, and got a ‘regular job’. And when he was fired from that job, it stung extra hard… he had failed, which we all do, but he had failed at something he wasn’t even really interested in. The lesson? We will all fail. It will sting when we do. Don’t compromise your life, because when you fail at something you weren’t even inspired do to, it will hurt more. Again, we will all fail, we minus well fail at something we love!

The problem isn't motivation...

Follow your dreams...

Spend 2 minutes on the internet looking for motivational stories, videos, or quotes about "life" or "following your dreams", and you will quickly find endless sources. I've personally watched countless videos, read books, listened to podcasts, attended seminars and been a part of think tank groups to discuss the topic of helping people "follow their dreams". It usually goes with some type of catchy quote about "letting go of the bow lines", or having the courage to "sail off into the unknown" to help encourage us to forget our fears and to "go for it!".

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Here's what I learned about myself and believe might be part of the reason people don't pursue their dreams in life. They aren't sure what their dream is! I can't think of the last time I met someone who absolutely knew what they wanted to do in life, and yet they were sitting on the sidelines doing something else. It wasn't because they were afraid of failure, or accepting a less fulfilling life. They (like me) didn't have a clear picture of their passions. They didn't lack motivation or work ethic to accomplish their goals, they simply didn't have a clear single passion to follow.

And here's the message for everyone out there that is still searching for their dream life while doing some other job in the interim. It's OK!!! Don't panic. You're not doing a bad job. Think about your alternatives; you either sit around and do nothing, or you go all in with all your talent, time, and resources towards a life goal that you never really believed was your own true passion. Searching for your life's passion is a HUGE task. I'm over 40 years old and still not 100% sure what I want to do when I grow up. I commend you for being an active contributor to society. I applaud your positive attitude, your work ethic and pride in the job that you have currently. Do it to the best of your ability. It doesn't have to be what you are going to do forever, but you are doing it now. And HOW you do your current job says a lot about you. If you're in an entry level, "boring", mundane position so that you can pay your own bills and not rely on others, do it with excellence. Think of it as the building block to the next step in your life. If you wait around for your "dream job" or "true passion" in life, you may be waiting forever. Just get out and DO SOMETHING. It won't take away from your ability to pursue your passions. The only failure as I see it, is being uncertain about what you want to do, so you do nothing. Attack life with enthusiasm. Wake up each morning grateful for the opportunity to work, to pursue your passions, and to change directions if you want. A happy life isn't finally landing a 'dream job' that is aligned with your passions, it's about finding your passions in every job you have.

It's ok to be lost or unsure about what you want to do in life. Deep down I believe most people are. The secret is to contribute to society in any capacity, change when you want to pursue a new passion or when your current path becomes unhealthy. So stop just telling people to "forget their fears", or "follow their dreams" as if people know what they want and are too afraid to pursue it. For me, life hasn't been incredible so far becasue I found my passion or know exactly what I'm meant to do with myself. My life has been blessed because I was naive enough to be extremely happy with whatever I was doing at the time, changing when life offered a different direction, and looking for the best in myself and in others wherever I was. That has been the difference.

Details.

"How you do anything, is how you do everything."

Balance is a key to life. Living with too much passion, can lend itself to alienation from others. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so staying quiet can allow others to get the limited resources to finish a project. It is with a healthy dose of caution that I express my love for living with an acute eye on details. Attention to the details in your life without a little bit of "don't sweat the small stuff" woven in, can lead to a dysfunctional (read, OCD) life.

After watching several abandoned shopping carts ghost ride across a parking lot one day, I made the conscious decision that one 'detail' I wanted to incorporate into my life was always returning the cart to a corral or store. At first, bringing carts back was because I didn't want to be lazy. Then I thought about it as the 'right thing to do'. I have since used it as a test of my commitment to the habit (some days its inconvenient or it's raining or I'm late). And now, for what ever my driving force, I pay attention to the small detail, that most people will never think twice about, because I believe how I act and what I do, says something about me as a person. 

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Paying attention to details started for me as a child. I remember my mom asking me to re-write my school papers over and over and over again. Always finding some small phrase or sentence structure that could be improved. She would say, "do you want to get an 'A' on this paper?". And, after hours of re-writing version after version, I remember saying, "I'll take the 'B', I'm tired of re-writing this!". My dad also tacitly hard-wired an eye for detail. Watching him clean his house to make sure the vacuum marks were always in the carpet, the kitchen was spotless, and the yard meticulously groomed, demonstrated a level of attention to the smallest detail. If I wanted to earn a few extra dollars, I would offer to wash his car. Only to soon remember that this was an hour or two (sometimes longer) commitment with significant oversight. Wheel wells had to be spotless, air vents needed cleaning, and trunk had to be cleaned completely. All of this 'modeling' is not necessarily a bad thing, as I have grown up to quickly and easily recognize when details have been missed.

Golden wood and platinum glass.

Have you ever wondered what makes a Ritz Carlton a luxury hotel and a Motel 6 a economy property? Why can the Ritz get $600+ dollars a night, and Motel 6 can only charge $99? It must be the golden wood and the platinum glass they use at the Ritz. Right? Obviously the difference does not reside in the material used to build the facility, wood is wood and glass is glass. It isn't in the height of the walls, the skill of the laborer who constructed the property, or the quality of the dirt that the hotels sit on. Most everything about the two hotels is the same from a resources perspective. What separates them, are the details by which they deliver a nights stay. It's the little things like the choice of amenities in the room. The attitude of the staff. The quality of the bed covers and the mattress. Its the attention to the details like the cleanliness of the windows, the smell and cleanliness of the carpets in the rooms and hallways. It's the choice of colors for the rooms and common areas, the shine on the brass hand rails in the elevator, the perfect paint job on the walls of the back stairwell, and the arrangement of the couches and tables in the lobby bar area. It's the collection of all the little details that make the Ritz a Ritz.

I like to think of myself as non-judgmental, but to a certain degree I believe we all form opinions based on the patterns of information we see around us. I am cautious to not miss-judge or make blanket opinions about groups of things (hotels, cars, people, etc.) because there are always exceptions to these patterns. With that said, I do believe that people make choices for a reason. I travel often for work. And sometimes I find myself sitting in airports and watching people as they pass. I think to myself, "what is this person saying about themselves by what they chose to wear today?". Think about this for a moment. Why did you choose to buy the jeans that are in your closet? The shoes, the shirts, the jacket, etc. Each of those decisions was made among several alternative choices. So, in turn, you picked what is in your closet (minus what was given to you as a gift) with some amount of time and thought. I assume you decided on what to buy, and eventually wear, because you liked it. Obviously we don't buy things we don't like or we think we look bad in, so it's safe to say you are wearing things that you want the world to identify you with. If you wear expensive stiletto heels, or ripped jeans, or a t-shirt with a phrase on it, or flip flops, or a cowboy hat, you are making a statement to the world about who you are. Again, there are exceptions, but I don't think someone would go to the effort of wearing shirts that advertise a certain political party or product or famous quote without having some alliance to that choice.

We give our signature of approval to the choices we make. Pay attention to your details. Simple things like how you dress or your personal hygiene and appearance are all making a statement about you for others to interpret. And despite the fact that we all need to be cautious and avoid passing sweeping 'judgments', it is a principle function of the world we live in. I've seen many opportunities or promotions withheld from people who may have been good because of initial impressions taken from first appearances.         

Balance is best somewhere between "don't sweat the small stuff", and "the devil's in the details." If your sitting at the beach in Hawaii on vacation and your poolside server accidentally brings you a margarita with salt on the rim and you asked for no salt, maybe that's a time to not worry about that missed detail. But when you are boarding your flight to Hawaii, you are probably going to want the confidence that the mechanic didn't skip any of the 'details' during his or her safety check...