Friday, June 18, 2010

"A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed.

It may also possess you completely.

Whatever; eventually it will call you out. It makes its claim."

James Hillman

The Soul's Code

Many years ago, I moved to Tallahassee, Florida with every intention of becoming a lawyer. After two years working for a law firm and passing the LSAT, I had every desire not to be a lawyer. I went to school anyway and pursued an advanced degree in business, not quite certain how I would apply it.

Thankfully, my personal life was rocking with creativity during those five years.

I met incredibly talented people with vastly diverse backgrounds. I sucked down fresh bay oysters with politicians, movie stars and assorted locals. We dove into inky green-blue sink holes the size of a city block – and infinitely deeper. Friends and I bought a camper van and traveled the Rockies (surviving an up close inspection by an odiferous grizzly), we traveled across the globe to work and study, we held hands with dying friends, sang ballads loudly and poorly around campfires on St. George Island, learned public speaking tips from one of the best professional speakers in America, observed the culinary skills of a world-famous television chef, took walks with one of our nation’s leading thinkers and painters, and…so much more.

I experienced a veritable odyssey of wonderful, meaningful and soul-changing experiences that continue to reverberate inside me. They made me the person I am today. The Universe slapped a giant “YES!” on my forehead, in the form of people who cared enough to put up with me, long enough to deliver their message.

Then, I entered corporate America. I dutifully shoved all those great learning moments into a memory box so secure it would make Steelcase proud.

In 1998, a client asked me to create a series of educational programs to be delivered in twelve modules over a period of two years. That’s a long time to spend with a few hundred people – it was more than a gig, it was a relationship!

Miraculously, we (they and I) pulled it off. Nobody died. We struggled through the basics: we explored core skills and generally discussed how to be good worker bees. Then, I wrote one course specifically for them. I called it: Make the Moment.

The module I wrote was not directly related to any core job skills or traditional topics like communication, teamwork, or time management. MTM was a course that explored life as a series of moments – the way seemingly insignificant events have the power to change our lives forever, and how we have the opportunity to create and/or participate in these moments on a daily basis. That class became a touchstone for the group. It’s power and honestly surprised me as much as it surely surprised them.

At the end of our time together, we celebrated with an emotion-filled dinner, where many of my new friends shared (unrehearsed) their stories of change and personal growth with peers, administrators and elected officials.

It was a humbling experience. What had started out as a routine transaction (deliver core skills training to a group) had turned into a life-altering event for many of us. It was also my first step toward a more meaningful life.

A year later, a pair of researchers, Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore published their first book, The Experience Economy. It quantified and validated everything I had been teaching. Life is more than a series of impersonal transactions, and the organizations that stage their services through mass customization are creating experiences. These experiences are what drive us to repeat purchases, tell others and generally fell more fulfilled about our lives.

Up to that point I had safely disconnected my professional career from all those wonderful personal experiences. I firmly held tight to the belief that business people should keep those two aspects of their lives very separate.

Since then, I have enjoyed several side-trips, dead-ends, fast-forward breakneck developments, self-inflicted wounds, healing conversations, organizations that did not leverage my talent (and where I did not deliver my best possible work) and work that felt like second nature, as if I was born for that particular challenge or project.

Finally–slowly–I realized that every single one of my experiences – whether personal or professional, good, bad, boring, awesome or something in between – are the kind of events that make all of us uniquely qualified for life on this planet. It is the sum of my existence that makes me better.

Fast-forward about ten years. We–myself included–seem to be obsessed by the tools and applications that supplement our lives. As Marshall Mcluhan once stated:

We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.

The Internet is only a tool, yet one that is shaping us. Still what does this all mean for our flesh and blood existence?

At our core, we are all hard-wired for a fully engaged life with five amazing senses that allow us to learn through experience and reflection. I find the most engaging moments are created by interesting people, not their tools alone. The organizations with the most creative people are where I want to spend my spare time and dollars.

I sense a quiet evolution underway, led by a generation raised within this experience economy. They want a return to authenticity, free from manipulation and stagecraft. Those experiences have a profound impact on our work, business, and lives, whether online or face-to-face. Let's see what happens.

This is a loud cheer for anyone whose calling in life exceeds the technology and tools, those people who turn merely forgettable transactions into nearly magical moments simply by expressing their talent, purpose and ability. Thank you for showing the rest of us how to live more fully.

This is also an invitation of sorts, a time to say “yes” to our inner potential, to shut off the tools now and then (even if we use them well), and create great moments for our families, our co-workers, our clients, members, or customers…and of course, ourselves.

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