Why Finding Your “Fit” Depends Upon Knowing “What Makes You Tick?”

This past week I spoke on a terrific panel at the Executives Moms Spring Luncheon in New York City (www.executivemoms.com). The title of the discussion was “Over FULFILLED…(Or Never Quite)? What Lies Beneath the Complicated, Driven, Rewarding Life of an Executive Mom?”

The panel was moderated by Good Morning America’s weekend host, Kate Snow, who is the mom of two children under 3 years old. Joining me as a panelist was Barbara K (http://www.barbarak.com), a mother of one son, who sells the well-known barbarak brand of tools for women and will be appearing on her own home improvement show on the E! Network. And Lisa McCloud, the author of Forget Perfect: For Every Woman Who Has Ever Put Herself Last on Her Own Priority List, who is the mother of two daughters (www.forgetperfect.com).

At the end of the lively and enlightening event, one thing was clear: We are all completely unique. We are all driven to do the things we do, and take on the amount of responsibilities we take on, for a variety of complicated and equally unique reasons. Some people spoke of loving the challenge of managing many different things at the same time, loving their job, liking to be busy, needing to make a living to support their family, or wanting to create. But it all came down to one question, “What makes you tick?” There is no right or wrong answer. We all need to honor not only our own work+life choices, but the choices of others as well.

The question came up again last week when I interviewed a manager at an investment bank for a project. At the end of the interview I asked him if he had one piece of advice to give employees. He said, “They need to answer the question, ‘what makes me tick?’ and then follow the steps to make that a reality that works for them and the company.”

The funny thing is, in my experience, most people don’t know what makes them tick. They only know what doesn’t, but can’t articulate what does. Why? My theory is that it’s because this is the first generation of workers who have to answer that question, and we don’t know how.

In the past, it wasn’t necessary because work was work, life was life. The boundaries were clearer and more standardized between the two spheres. Now, with technology and globalization there are no boundaries. Therefore, we need to play a much bigger role in partnering with our employers to determine what those “mutually-beneficial” boundaries are. But you can’t come up with the boundaries if you don’t know, “What makes you tick?”

The first question I ask people is, “How do you want work to fit into your life?” In fact, it is the first step in the Work+Life Fit Roadmap. Without at least some initial answer, you can’t finish the rest of the map. Answering that one question is so important that it takes up four chapters in my book.

I am not the only one trying to help people think about how to answer the question, “what makes you tick?” My friend, Doug Smith, is a successful business executive with a mission—to help people identify what makes them happy and to show them how to operate from that place throughout their careers.

I met Doug in May 2005 when we both spoke at the Tuck Business School’s WorkLife Conference. Doug is the former President and CEO of Borden Food Corporation, and is now one of the owners of a company called Best Brands Corp. which supplies baked goods to restaurants like Starbucks.

Following a personal life reevaluation a few years ago, Doug realized that, as a successful corporate CEO, he had a unique platform from which to share his hard won wisdom about happiness. He believes that understanding what makes you happy and pursuing it is critical not only to personal success, but, ultimately to the success of organizations.

In an effort to prepare the next generation, Doug taught a four-week course on Happiness to 27 students at DePaw University this past January, and it was a terrific success. Here what he wrote when I asked him if I could blog about him and his class:

It (the class) was a delight. I learned more than the students, but they seemed to really get into the course and gave rave reviews on the evaluation. This same topic was the basis of a course at Harvard this past term. The course at Harvard was called “Positive Psychology”, but everyone referred to it as “Happiness 101”. 885 students signed up for the course at Harvard, more than had ever signed up for any one course. I think the reason this is hitting such a positive nerve among students is that as our mores, restrictions, expectations, influence of religion have all come down in society, the number of choices and alternatives has gone way up. The net result of which is that people are looking for touchstones, principles, guidance in how to make decisions about money, sex, alcohol, drugs, etc. This course really is about figuring out what you want to do with your life and looking at your actions and seeing if they are serving you in getting there. As someone in the class pointed out, this is the one course that is really about them … the students.”

“What makes you tick?” Whether you are an executive mom, a manager at an investment bank, a corporate CEO, or a college student just stepping out into the real world, it is a question we all need to actively answer for ourselves over and over again throughout our lives. The answer for each of us will be completely unique. It doesn’t matter what the answer is, only that you are asking yourself the question. It’s the first very important step.

Join me in TWO weeks on June 27th for the next Work+Life Fit Blog, as we shift to the every two week summer posting schedule!