How Olympian are you?


By Roger James Hamilton

What does the Olympics have to do with you and your life? Few people relate psychologist Carl Jung with the Olympic symbol, yet he is the original designer - and the five rings symbolise the five strengths to live an Olympian Life.

Olympic Rings

When the founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, was looking for a symbol for the games, he turned to his friend Carl Jung. Jung knew the circle was the symbol of potential and life in ancient cultures, and introduced the idea of the five interlocking circles as a reflection of five energies - the same five found in Chinese philosophy (Jung was the first to publish the I Ching in the West, and at the 2008 Beijing Olympics the Chinese returned to the initial concept with their five mascots representing water, wood, fire, earth and metal).

This year the symbol is 100 years old, and in 1912 when Coubertin introduced it he also introduced what he saw as the keystone Olympic event, the Modern Pentathalon. This had five disciplines that to him summed up the five key attributes every individual should have. How do you square up in these five areas in your life and business?

  • SWIMMING (Element = Water / Spirit / Blue): This discipline is about rhythm. Rhythm keeps us breathing, above water, and moving forward at pace. What is the level of rhythm you have set in your life and business, and where is there stress and disharmony where rhythm has been lost and where you’re out of synch?
  • SHOW JUMPING (Element = Wood / Spring / Green): This discipline is about power. Not the power of the rider, but your ability to harness the power of the horse. How well are you harnessing the power of your business, your market, your industry? A clue: If you’re the one doing all the work, you’re not the rider. You’re the horse.
  • FENCING (Element = Fire / Summer / Red): This discipline is about flair. Your success is dependant on having an opponent to spar with and how well you dance with them. Who are you fencing with in a way that you both are upping your game? Who should you be fencing with? And are you doing it with honour?
  • CROSS COUNTRY RUN (Element = Earth / Autumn / Yellow): This discipline is about perseverance. Cross country is about running through the elements and adjusting with the terrain, slowing when you need to and speeding up where you can. Where should you be slowing down and speeding up to win your race?
  • SHOOTING (Element = Metal / Winter / Black): This discipline is about precision. As distinctly different to the other four as they are to each other, this is not about physical exertion, but the ability to quiet the mind, let the body disappear, and hit the target. How well are you hitting your targets by doing the opposite of working hard?

Today, winning an Olympic medal isn’t on many people’s to-do list. Mainly because - without the right skills and sacrifice an Olympic medal is simply out of reach. De Coubertin’s vision was not this. It was to make sport accessible to everyone, and to use the Olympics as a way to demonstrate how sport can highlight the skillsets we need to excel at an ‘Olympian’ level in life.

So to make the most of this year’s Olympics - Be inspired by the athletes competing in the London Olympics, but also bring these five disciplines into your own performance in life, and claim your own gold.

Keep Making Magic.

Roger Hamilton is the founder of Wealth Dynamics (

Coaching Notes: Servant Leadership - Helping People Come Alive


by Viral Mehta

In the ancient words of Lao Tzu, "The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, 'We ourselves have achieved it!'"

In an ancient parable, three masons are sitting in a row, all chipping away at large blocks of stone. A woman observing them is curious about what they're up to. She asks the first man what he's doing, to which he responds, "I'm chipping away at this block of stone." Indeed, she thinks. She questions the second man similarly, who says, "I'm working to feed my family." Also true, reflects the woman. Finally, she questions the third mason, who responds, "I'm helping to build a beautiful cathedral."

ItIt's a powerful perspective -- holding within it a value for collaboration, agency, creativity, and meaning. What if we all could see our work in that way? What if our organizations supported us in holding that perspective, and to go one step further, how can we create institutions that release these core values? In his seminal 1970 essay "The Servant as Leader," Robert Greenleaf coined the term "servant leader" to describe someone who has that interest. For such a person, "It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.""

A servant leader -- one who wants to serve first and lead second -- strives to create a work environment in which people can truly express these deepest of inner drives. Servant leadership entails a deep belief that people are the greatest asset any organization has, and to nurture their individual growth becomes the basis for all organizational development. That growth goes far beyond the limited dimension of financial benefit -- it dives into our core motivations as people.

A servant leader -- one who wants to serve first and lead second -- strives to create a work environment in which people can truly express these deepest of inner drives. Servant leadership entails a deep belief that people are the greatest asset any organization has, and to nurture their individual growth becomes the basis for all organizational development. That growth goes far beyond the limited dimension of financial benefit -- it dives into our core motivations as people.

In his book Drive, best-selling author Dan Pink talks about the evolution in our understanding of what really motivates people, especially in our professional lives. According to Pink, the latest behavioral science research points to three key drivers: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Another way to frame this is empowerment, perfectibility, and purpose, and servant leaders endeavor to create a culture that fosters each of these three intrinsic motivations:


People want to be engaged and also have some level of control over their environment. A servant leader recognizes that the people doing the work generally have the best ideas about how to improve the processes they participate in. Through tools like rapid improvement events and PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) suggestion systems, servant leaders practice participatory decision-making, empowering employees to be innovators and co-creators in positive change. Such leaders are also enablers; they spend a significant amount of time at the workplace, making direct observations, and then striving to create systemic improvements that add value to the work of their employees.

For a concrete example of this kind of engagement, in "Improving Healthcare Using Toyota Lean Production Methods," Robert Chalice reports that Toyota Corporation employees globally generate 2 million ideas a year. And they come from all over -- more than 95% of the workforce contributes these suggestions, with each person submitting over 30 ideas each. Even more importantly, over 90% of these ideas are implemented. Leaders who understand how to unleash this kind of creativity build systems that support idea generation. But this kind of empowerment is also grounded. Servant leaders promote learning by doing and testing iteratively in a scientific way, and they demonstrate accountability. It's a great example of assuming value in all people, which soon translates into a scientific, transparent system for everyday improvement, which in turn fosters a culture of continuous perfection.


Perfect is a verb -- and every person can tap into an intrinsic drive toward perfection. A carpenter can strive to be a perfect craftsman, a nurse looks to provide perfect care at the bedside, and Michael Jordan was known to inexorably seek the perfect shot. The role of servant leadership is to create a culture and context in which that inherent drive toward improvement is channeled in a way that benefits the whole. If people are engaged in perfection as a journey and not a destination, then they are constantly looking for ways to innovate.

This brand of innovation follows a very conscious design philosophy -- one that is inherently collaborative. All of us are smarter than any of us, as the adage goes. Far from being a cold, individual, strictly rational process, servant leaders design highly collaborative systems that balance the scientific method with in-depth engagement of people from all levels. They also actively break down silos and promote a shared view across functions and departments: in healthcare (where I currently work), that view is: "how can we maximize the real value to the patient, and as they move along the care delivery stream, what improves their well-being?" In that sense, servant leaders have a worldview of interdependence, and recognize that they have to own the entire value stream (including suppliers and partners), on behalf of the patient.


In the words of Picasso, "The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." In healthcare -- and especially in serving the underserved population -- it becomes all the more important (and necessary) to create structures that enable us to give in concert. Atul Gawande, the famed surgeon-author, uses a sports analogy to urge modern healthcare (though it's easily generalizable) to evolve from "cowboy medicine" to "pitcrew medicine," referring to the unbelievable preparation, synchronization, and seamless way in which a pit-crew services a race-car in the thick of intense competition. If a pit-crew can deliver flawless results in less than 12 seconds, imagine what a team of people can do longterm in the service of better care for all.

At the root of such collaboration is still each person's own connection to greater purpose. Civil Rights leader Howard Thurman said, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." Perhaps that is the essence of servant leadership: to facilitate people in coming alive. Interestingly enough, when we support people in tapping into that part of themselves that is most alive, then their most selfless motivations surface. So people who've come alive are naturally amenable to working in a collective.

In this way, by supporting people in finding purpose, servant leaders inspire true, collective service. And it's all done invisibly, such that people can truly feel that they are each "helping to build a beautiful cathedral."

To repeat the ancient words of Lao Tzu, "The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, 'We ourselves have achieved it!'"________________________________________

15 Reasons why Team building fails so often
Team Building using Emotional Intelligence

A common management task is to create a new team. This can be for the launch of a new product or the opening of a new branch. Sometimes an organisation appoints an outside manager as a replacement with the instructions to re-invigorate or turn around the current team.

A common mistake by managers is to forget one of the key rules of life: We like those best that are like ourselves.

Collaborative Conversations Drive Business Differentiation

How dynamic and collaborative are your employee conversations? Are you inviting creative banter to develop innovative solutions? Do you have the technologies in place to support team building among members located throughout the world? If you want to achieve differentiation in the market, employee engagement is truly the key as described in this write up.

Simple Leadership Lessons from George Marshall

George Marshall served the United States in many ways. As Chief of Staff of the Army he prepared a quite unprepared army for the Second World War. After the war he served as Secretary of Defence and Secretary of State. He created the Marshall Plan, which President Truman insisted bear Marshall's name, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The article outlines the lessons from a life and career like Marshall's that we can learn from the way Marshall did his job and that any boss can apply.

30 Overlooked Acts of Leadership Courage

We often think of leaders as exhibiting big acts of courage – overcoming huge obstacles and saving lives, metaphorically and literally. Yet I’m amazed and humbled at the courageous things leaders do that we don’t think of as brave. The small courageous things that we overlook every day are the stuff that make up the character of great leaders and the contents of this interesting piece.

Empathy in Leadership – 10 Reasons Why It Matters

The article is a transcript of an interview between the author and Lolly Daskal on the subject of ‘The Role of Empathy in Leadership’. The article deals with interesting questions such as a what role does empathy play in Leadership and why aren’t we more empathetic at work.

The entire interview can be read at:

Where do we go from here? Building an intergenerational progressive movement

An interesting article about the authors own leadership journey and the development of a program that is focused on supporting young leaders committed to social and environmental justice in Canada.

Article can be accessed at:

The Changing Face of Leadership Development

Leaders today need to possess high emotional intelligence, a keen understanding of risk management and the ability to tackle paradoxes — a tall order, and one Chief learning officers must fill. This article talks about the four factors which must be considered while developing leadership pipelines in organisations.

Read the full article at:

Interview with Larry Bonfante

Larry shares his insight on what it takes to successfully lead an IT organization, through various speaking engagements, his work with the Society for Information Management and his executive coaching practice, CIO Bench Coach. The interview also brings our other facets of his life as an author and coach, showing gow success needs a skill set beyond the technical.

Read his full interview at:

Why I’m a listener: Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer

For most of my career, I was an awful listener in almost every possible way. I was arrogant throughout my 30s for sure—maybe into my early 40s. My conversations were all about some concept of intellectual winning and “I’m going to prove I’m smarter than you.” It wasn’t an evil, megalomania-driven thing; it was mostly because I was a striver, I wanted to get ahead, and getting ahead meant convincing people of my point of view.

The best advice I ever heard about listening—advice that significantly changed my own approach—came from Sam Palmisano,1 when he was talking to our leadership team. Someone asked him why his experience working in Japan was so important to his leadership development, and he said, “Because I learned to listen.” And I thought, “That’s pretty amazing.” He also said, “I learned to listen by having only one objective: comprehension. I was only trying to understand what the person was trying to convey to me. I wasn’t listening to critique or object or convince.”

That was an epiphany for me because as you become a senior leader, it’s a lot less about convincing people and more about benefiting from complex information and getting the best out of the people you work with. Listening for comprehension helps you get that information, of course, but it’s more than that: it’s also the greatest sign of respect you can give someone. So I shifted, by necessity, to try to become more relaxed in what I was doing and just to be more patient and open to new ideas. And as I started focusing on comprehension, I found that my bandwidth for listening increased in a very meaningful way.

The cultural environment, of course, is going to define every aspect of communication. If you’re in a fear-driven, toxic environment, listening is going to be almost impossible, and I’ve been in places like that. Being the CEO, however, means that you can define the culture by whom you pick for positions under you and by the standards you enforce. I’ve always tried to emphasize an environment of partnership, teamwork, trust, and respect—and anyone with a bullying tendency, we fire. Of course, it’s not perfect; we’re human beings. But we try hard to have every aspect of our culture and of the way we operate encourage the sharing of information—to listen to the facts, listen to the logic, and draw well-formed conclusions.

Strategic Listening

As a senior executive—particularly if you’re responsible for a big function or division—you operate in a very complicated ecosystem with many sources of information that matter. In your mind, you need a picture of what reality is right now, with the knowledge that the picture is dynamic and ambiguous. That’s why it’s important to focus on what I call strategic listening: a purposeful, multifaceted, time-sensitive listening system that helps you get the signals you need from your ecosystem.

You’ve got to seek out these signals actively and use every possible means to receive them. I imagine the individual signals as mosaic tiles of information. No single tile paints the picture—and you never get all the tiles—but by assembling them you get a good idea of what the picture is. My method of gathering the tiles involves regularly visiting with, and listening to, people in the company who don’t necessarily report to me. I also read as much as I possibly can: surveys, operating data, analyst reports, regulatory reports, outside analyses, and so on. I meet with our top ten investors twice a year to listen, and at shareholder conferences I consider the Q&As very important. The key is making yourself open to the possibility that information can and will come from almost anywhere.

I also try to teach and model this behavior within our company. Often, when I’m with an executive, I say, “Hey, tell me about your ecosystem. Whose opinion matters to you? Let’s make a list of those people. How do you hear from them, and how often? Where are you now with a particular constituent? When’s the last time you got a particular piece of data? And don’t tell me that no news is good news.”

Listen or fail

It’s terribly important to be able to hear danger, which is often a very weak signal. If there’s a lag in your ability to hear it, you are going to be in trouble because the rest of the world—the press, blogs—is a gigantic amplification system for these signals. Listening is a threshold skill: if you don’t have it, you will fail, but having it doesn’t mean you will necessarily succeed. The failure may happen rapidly—the danger signal came, you didn’t react, and it got you. Or it may occur in a more grad-ual way, when an accumulation of all your bad listening practices erodes personal relationships, causes you to make lower-quality decisions, or leaves you unable to monitor implementation. Eventually, executives who don’t listen lose the support of their teams and colleagues. And once you’ve lost that support, it’s almost impossible to get it back. You can’t be effective as an executive, and you’re going to get fired.

Similarly, organizations that don’t listen will fail, because they won’t sense a changing environment or requirements or know whether their customers or employees are happy. In an incredibly information-intensive, dynamic environment, you have to listen or else—to mix metaphors—you’re blind.

Changing behavior

Most people underappreciate the complexity of listening, the skills needed, and the value of doing it well. Everybody says you need to be a good listener, but in my experience it’s often more lip service than conviction.

Listening can be learned, but to change your behavior on any important dimension you’ve got to have deep self-awareness. You have to change, and you have to want to change—and you can’t fake it. That’s what my epiphany was about. I started thinking: I’d better change my style. I was maybe 90 percent tell, 10 percent listen, and I knew I’d better try to move closer to 50–50 and force myself to be more patient.

That was hard because arrogance would lead me to think, “I’m smarter than you and I know what you’re going to tell me, so let’s make this really efficient for both of us. I won’t have to listen, and we can get to the really important part of the conversation: me telling you what to do.”

It hit me hard that I had to stop this. What was I doing? Saving three minutes? We’ve all got three minutes to spare. There has to be a certain humility to listen well.

Of course, at the other extreme, listening doesn’t mean being a witless receiver of information or taking a monk-like “hear and say nothing” posture. We have to process what we’re hearing, think about what it means, and make decisions. Still, before you make a decision, you’ve got to make sure the listening has happened so that you have sufficient information.

At the level of very senior executives, this information includes understanding the psychology of the situation. Most of my job is not about deciding on the right thing to do—that’s pretty easy. The hard part is figuring out how to get it to happen, and that’s about understanding the thinking and motivations of the people who help me achieve, so I can help them to be more effective. And if I don’t listen enough to understand their world, I can’t be a very good coach.

I recall one situation when we were developing a five-year resource plan for a very large function. Our financial executive was worried that the functional leader didn’t really have the conviction to manage the costs and meet the financial targets the plan called for. This executive felt that he had to go in with a pretty heavy hand. In listening to him talk, I could tell right away that there would be resistance and that he was going to fail. So I coached him on how to talk with the functional executive and how to listen to the functional group’s concerns and put them in a strategic context that would resonate for the group—not just, “Hey, we’re going to miss the EPS2 for the quarter.” I was also implicitly giving him time to work all this through. In the end, he was able to come together with the functional leader and succeed.

Original Source

The Art Of Listening Well

Forget about what you were going to say next. Make sure you hear what the other person says. A zoologist was walking down a busy city street with a friend. In the midst of the honking horns and screeching tires, he exclaimed to his friend, "Listen to that cricket!" The friend looked at the zoologist in astonishment and said, "You hear a cricket in the middle of all this noise and confusion?" Without a word, the zoologist reached into his pocket, took out a coin, and flipped it into the air. As it clinked on the sidewalk, a dozen heads turned in response. The zoologist said quietly to his friend, "We hear what we listen for." Day after day, inside and outside of business, we miss important information because we don't listen with full attention. We also misunderstand and misinterpret messages and ideas because of our preconceptions, biases, and wishes. Take the manager who dreaded to see his secretary go away for her two-week vacation. When the secretary told the boss she'd be taking time off, it just didn't sink in. Said the secretary later: "I told my boss three times I was planning on taking my vacation in October. It just didn't register." Minor slipups in communication can have major repercussions, as any sensitive manager knows. Lack of communication between you and others in your company can not only foul up job assignments and raise the cost of doing business, it can also cause hurt feelings and generally lower morale. Listening is an art that requires work, self-discipline, and skill. The art of communication springs as much from knowing when to listen as it does from knowing how to use words well. Ask any good salesperson or negotiator about the value of silence. He or she will tell you good listeners generally make more sales and better deals than good talkers. To sharpen listening skills, you need patience and practice. Here are some suggestions that have helped others become better listeners:

  • RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO MONOPOLIZE CONVERSATION. If you like to dominate a situation or feel you know everything there is to know about a subject, you're probably a poor listener. Remain open to new ideas instead of impatiently waiting for a chance to butt in with what you think is the final word on the subject. Before you speak, make sure that the speaker has had a chance to make his point.Many people think aloud and tend to grope toward their meaning. Their initial statements may be only a vague approximation of what they mean.
  • AVOID JUDGING THE SPEAKER TOO SOON. Good listeners try not to become preoccupied with a speaker's mannerisms or delivery. Instead of thinking, for instance, "What a monotone this guy has," ask yourself, "What's in the message that I should know?" or "What can this add to my knowledge and experience?"
  • DON'T FAKE ATTENTION. When we decide that what a speaker has to say is boring or useless, we frequently pretend to listen. It's usually quite easy for an attentive listener to recognize that our "uh-huhs" are really "ho-hums." When he does, his thinking is likely to become confused, he may get annoyed, and his delivery will probably deteriorate. Attentive listeners remain alert and maintain eye contact. Simple gestures -- nodding, raising the eyebrows, or leaning forward -- all can convey interest. Occasional comments, such as "I see," "That's interest," or "Tell me more about that," if said with genuine interest, can go a long way toward reassuring the speaker.
  • LISTEN FOR IDEAS, AS WELL AS FACTS. When we listen, we tend to get bogged down trying to retain the facts and we miss the ideas behind them. For example, when a person starts running through a list of seven points, the listener immediately begins mulling over the first point, trying to remember it. Meanwhile, point two is being explained. How he's preoccupied with two facts and is apt to miss the third point altogether. So it goes through point seven: some facts retained, some missed, and others confused. Instead of getting lost in a string of disassociated fragments, make an effort to understand what the facts add up to by relating them to each other and seeing what key ideas bind them together.
  • BE ALERT TO NONVERBAL CLUES OR "BODY LANGUAGE". Try not only to listen to what is said but also to understand the attitudes and motives that lie behind the words. Also remember that the speaker does not always put his entire message into words. For example, there is sometimes considerable difference between the auditory cues and the behavioral cues emitted by the speaker. While his verbal message may convey conviction about a new idea or proposal, his gestures, posture, facial expressions, and tone of voice may convey doubt and lack of enthusiasm.
  • USE THE SPEED OF THOUGHT PRODUCTIVELY. Because we usually think three to four times faster than we talk, we often get impatient with a speaker's slow progress, and our minds wander. Try using the extra time by silently reviewing and summarizing the speaker's main points. Then, when he's finished, you can restate the points and ask the speaker if you've understood the message. Questions such as "Is this what you mean?" or "Do I understand you correctly?" are not only supportive because they show your interest, they also reduce the chance of misunderstanding later on.

Orignal Source

Coaching Notes - Elephant Mastery

By Jennifer Day

Last year, I came across an analogy in a book (The Happiness Hypothosis by Jonathan Haidt) that struck me as very clever. Encountering it again a few months ago in another book (Switch by Chip and Dan Heath), my esteem increased by several notches from "That's clever" to "That's bloody brilliant!" and then "What a terrific analogy for coaches to use!"

The analogy I'm referring to describes the concept many of you may be aware of; that our emotions underlie our thinking, which in turn drives our behaviour. However it describes this concept in somewhat more imaginative and compelling terms, looking something like this:

Imagine that a person is riding an elephant along a pathway. The elephant represents our emotions. The person riding the elephant represents our thinking (the brain) and the pathway represents our environment, such as the people are surroundings we interact with and the destination we are headed for.

For a journey to run smoothly, the pathway needs to be obvious, not cluttered by too much junk, wide enough and otherwise conducive to the journey and the safe arrival at our chosen destination.

While the idea of a path needing to be clear and conducive is probably an analogy you are already familiar with, the concept that is more unusual here is using an elephant to symbolize emotions, while rational thought is represented by a mere man—mere in terms of comparative size to the elephant, that is!

In this context size does matter, because it indicates power and force and, as we know (even if we rarely take it into consideration on a daily basis), emotions are more powerful than thoughts. In fact, emotions are so much more powerful than thoughts that the ratio is probably quite accurately depicted in this image. Keep going with the analogy and it may look something like this:

When the elephant is well fed and watered (content), looked after (acknowledged), cared for (validated), and well-trained (ability for self-regulation and self-soothing) he is happy to oblige the will of his rider's commands (logical reasoning) and go where his rider tells him to go.

However, if he has been deprived of food and water (denial), has been neglected (invalidated and left untrained) and kept confined (suppressed), he will not be in any condition to obey his master well. If the rider attempts to force his compliance, the elephant will likely become resentful, uncooperative, defiant, and eventually veer out of control (frustration, anger, or other unpleasant emotion). No matter how much the rider holds the reins and may look like he's in charge, at that point he is immobilized simply because the six-ton elephant is the larger, more powerful one. Imagine trying to reach your destination in this scenario!

Translate all this back to your own day-to-day environment thoughts, and emotions—and those of your clients—and you may get some insights into why life isn't always happening the way we want or think it should! For example, do you ever find yourself escaping into your laptop during meetings when you know you shouldn't be? Or not speaking up when you know you should? Do you ever hear yourself saying something you'll regret, but you can't stop yourself? Or losing your temper and yelling at your child? Do you know you shouldn't be eating that cholesterol-packed meal but you just can't help it? Do you want to be exercising or meditating but can't seem to get around to it? I could go on and on with examples of procrastination, flared tempers, avoidance, stressed out behaviors, and—well, you get the picture!

When your elephant rider wants you to stop (or start) doing something, but you neglect to address your elephant's needs, your elephant could very well charge off and leave your wishes and plans by the side of the road. Or he may just settle himself down and refuse to move at all. Does that sound like what sometimes happens to you?

The good news is that when your elephant rider considers the elephant's needs, and the two of them work together, you can rest assured that you will arrive at your destination (what you want to achieve or how you'd like to behave). And when your brain's systems are working together so coherently, you will gain the heightened intelligence to ensure that the pathway—your environment and conditions—is as supportive as possible.

So next time you feel yourself not being congruent in thought and deed, or in feeling and expression, give yourself a brief time out. Practice some deep breathing and ask yourself what is going on with your elephant. Or is there something going on with your elephant rider—over-analysis, over-thinking, etc.—that is creating some emotional insecurity in your elephant? Whatever comes to you, however brief an insight, write it down; if appropriate, act on it.

This whole process will normally take 2-3 minutes, but can often save you hours or even weeks by gaining the increased coherence between elephant and rider! And the more often you practice this, the easier and quicker it will get. Once you've practiced it enough and feel it works for you, try it out with your clients—in my experience, there really is nothing like developing this kind of emotional intelligence; getting the elephant and rider working together. I call it Applied Emotional Mastery, but maybe we should call it Elephant Mastery!

Jennifer Day teaches and coaches coaching practitioners, managers, executives, and parents to help themselves and others build resilience to stress and higher levels of emotional intelligence. She developed AEM – Applied Emotional Mastery ® , a methodology for practical, ‘on the go’ emotional

How to do what you love?

To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We've got it down to four words: "Do what you love." But it's not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated.

The very idea is foreign to what most of us learn as kids. When I was a kid, it seemed as if work and fun were opposites by definition. Life had two states: some of the time adults were making you do things, and that was called work; the rest of the time you could do what you wanted, and that was called playing. Occasionally the things adults made you do were fun, just as, occasionally, playing wasn't—for example, if you fell and hurt yourself. But except for these few anomalous cases, work was pretty much defined as not-fun.

And it did not seem to be an accident. School, it was implied, was tedious because it was preparation for grownup work.

The world then was divided into two groups, grownups and kids. Grownups, like some kind of cursed race, had to work. Kids didn't, but they did have to go to school, which was a dilute version of work meant to prepare us for the real thing. Much as we disliked school, the grownups all agreed that grownup work was worse, and that we had it easy.

Teachers in particular all seemed to believe implicitly that work was not fun. Which is not surprising: work wasn't fun for most of them. Why did we have to memorize state capitals instead of playing dodgeball? For the same reason they had to watch over a bunch of kids instead of lying on a beach. You couldn’t just do what you wanted.

I'm not saying we should let little kids do whatever they want. They may have to be made to work on certain things. But if we make kids work on dull stuff, it might be wise to tell them that tediousness is not the defining quality of work, and indeed that the reason they have to work on dull stuff now is so they can work on more interesting stuff later.

Once, when I was about 9 or 10, my father told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, so long as I enjoyed it. I remember that precisely because it seemed so anomalous. It was like being told to use dry water. Whatever I thought he meant, I didn't think he meant work could literally be fun—fun like playing. It took me years to grasp that.


By high school, the prospect of an actual job was on the horizon. Adults would sometimes come to speak to us about their work, or we would go to see them at work. It was always understood that they enjoyed what they did. In retrospect I think one may have: the private jet pilot. But I don't think the bank manager really did.

The main reason they all acted as if they enjoyed their work was presumably the upper-middle class convention that you're supposed to. It would not merely be bad for your career to say that you despised your job, but a social faux-pas.

Why is it conventional to pretend to like what you do? The first sentence of this essay explains that. If you have to like something to do it well, then the most successful people will all like what they do. That's where the upper-middle class tradition comes from. Just as houses all over America are full of chairs that are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of chairs designed 250 years ago for French kings, conventional attitudes about work are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of the attitudes of people who've done great things.

What a recipe for alienation. By the time they reach an age to think about what they'd like to do, most kids have been thoroughly misled about the idea of loving one's work. School has trained them to regard work as an unpleasant duty. Having a job is said to be even more onerous than schoolwork. And yet all the adults claim to like what they do. You can't blame kids for thinking "I am not like these people; I am not suited to this world."

Actually they've been told three lies: the stuff they've been taught to regard as work in school is not real work; grownup work is not (necessarily) worse than schoolwork; and many of the adults around them are lying when they say they like what they do.

The most dangerous liars can be the kids' own parents. If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. [2] Maybe it would be better for kids in this one case if parents were not so unselfish. A parent who set an example of loving their work might help their kids more than an expensive house.

It was not till I was in college that the idea of work finally broke free from the idea of making a living. Then the important question became not how to make money, but what to work on. Ideally these coincided, but some spectacular boundary cases (like Einstein in the patent office) proved they weren't identical.

The definition of work was now to make some original contribution to the world, and in the process not to starve. But after the habit of so many years my idea of work still included a large component of pain. Work still seemed to require discipline, because only hard problems yielded grand results, and hard problems couldn't literally be fun. Surely one had to force oneself to work on them.

If you think something's supposed to hurt, you're less likely to notice if you're doing it wrong. That about sums up my experience of graduate school.


How much are you supposed to like what you do? Unless you know that, you don't know when to stop searching. And if, like most people, you underestimate it, you'll tend to stop searching too early. You'll end up doing something chosen for you by your parents, or the desire to make money, or prestige—or sheer inertia.

Here's an upper bound: Do what you love doesn't mean, do what you would like to do most this second. Even Einstein probably had moments when he wanted to have a cup of coffee, but told himself he ought to finish what he was working on first.

It used to perplex me when I read about people who liked what they did so much that there was nothing they'd rather do. There didn't seem to be any sort of work I liked that much. If I had a choice of (a) spending the next hour working on something or (b) be teleported to Rome and spend the next hour wandering about, was there any sort of work I'd prefer? Honestly, no.

But the fact is, almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Carribbean, or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems. The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn't mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.

Unproductive pleasures pall eventually. After a while you get tired of lying on the beach. If you want to stay happy, you have to do something.

As a lower bound, you have to like your work more than any unproductive pleasure. You have to like what you do enough that the concept of "spare time" seems mistaken. Which is not to say you have to spend all your time working. You can only work so much before you get tired and start to screw up. Then you want to do something else—even something mindless. But you don't regard this time as the prize and the time you spend working as the pain you endure to earn it.

I put the lower bound there for practical reasons. If your work is not your favorite thing to do, you'll have terrible problems with procrastination. You'll have to force yourself to work, and when you resort to that the results are distinctly inferior.

To be happy I think you have to be doing something you not only enjoy, but admire. You have to be able to say, at the end, wow, that's pretty cool. This doesn't mean you have to make something. If you learn how to hang glide, or to speak a foreign language fluently, that will be enough to make you say, for a while at least, wow, that's pretty cool. What there has to be is a test.

So one thing that falls just short of the standard, I think, is reading books. Except for some books in math and the hard sciences, there's no test of how well you've read a book, and that's why merely reading books doesn't quite feel like work. You have to do something with what you've read to feel productive.

I think the best test is one Gino Lee taught me: to try to do things that would make your friends say wow. But it probably wouldn't start to work properly till about age 22, because most people haven't had a big enough sample to pick friends from before then.


What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn't worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgement you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don't even know?

This is easy advice to give. It's hard to follow, especially when you're young. [5] Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you'd like to like.

That's what leads people to try to write novels, for example. They like reading novels. They notice that people who write them win Nobel prizes. What could be more wonderful, they think, than to be a novelist? But liking the idea of being a novelist is not enough; you have to like the actual work of novel-writing if you're going to be good at it; you have to like making up elaborate lies.

Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you'll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That's the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn't suck, they wouldn't have had to make it prestigious.

Similarly, if you admire two kinds of work equally, but one is more prestigious, you should probably choose the other. Your opinions about what's admirable are always going to be slightly influenced by prestige, so if the two seem equal to you, you probably have more genuine admiration for the less prestigious one.

The other big force leading people astray is money. Money by itself is not that dangerous. When something pays well but is regarded with contempt, like telemarketing, or prostitution, or personal injury litigation, ambitious people aren't tempted by it. That kind of work ends up being done by people who are "just trying to make a living." (Tip: avoid any field whose practitioners say this.) The danger is when money is combined with prestige, as in, say, corporate law, or medicine. A comparatively safe and prosperous career with some automatic baseline prestige is dangerously tempting to someone young, who hasn't thought much about what they really like.

The test of whether people love what they do is whether they'd do it even if they weren't paid for it—even if they had to work at another job to make a living. How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves?

This test is especially helpful in deciding between different kinds of academic work, because fields vary greatly in this respect. Most good mathematicians would work on math even if there were no jobs as math professors, whereas in the departments at the other end of the spectrum, the availability of teaching jobs is the driver: people would rather be English professors than work in ad agencies, and publishing papers is the way you compete for such jobs. Math would happen without math departments, but it is the existence of English majors, and therefore jobs teaching them, that calls into being all those thousands of dreary papers about gender and identity in the novels of Conrad. No one does that kind of thing for fun.

The advice of parents will tend to err on the side of money. It seems safe to say there are more undergrads who want to be novelists and whose parents want them to be doctors than who want to be doctors and whose parents want them to be novelists. The kids think their parents are "materialistic." Not necessarily. All parents tend to be more conservative for their kids than they would for themselves, simply because, as parents, they share risks more than rewards. If your eight year old son decides to climb a tall tree, or your teenage daughter decides to date the local bad boy, you won't get a share in the excitement, but if your son falls, or your daughter gets pregnant, you'll have to deal with the consequences.


With such powerful forces leading us astray, it's not surprising we find it so hard to discover what we like to work on. Most people are doomed in childhood by accepting the axiom that work = pain. Those who escape this are nearly all lured onto the rocks by prestige or money. How many even discover something they love to work on? A few hundred thousand, perhaps, out of billions.

It's hard to find work you love; it must be, if so few do. So don't underestimate this task. And don't feel bad if you haven't succeeded yet. In fact, if you admit to yourself that you're discontented, you're a step ahead of most people, who are still in denial. If you're surrounded by colleagues who claim to enjoy work that you find contemptible, odds are they're lying to themselves. Not necessarily, but probably.

Although doing great work takes less discipline than people think—because the way to do great work is to find something you like so much that you don't have to force yourself to do it—finding work you love does usually require discipline. Some people are lucky enough to know what they want to do when they're 12, and just glide along as if they were on railroad tracks. But this seems the exception. More often people who do great things have careers with the trajectory of a ping-pong ball. They go to school to study A, drop out and get a job doing B, and then become famous for C after taking it up on the side.

Sometimes jumping from one sort of work to another is a sign of energy, and sometimes it's a sign of laziness. Are you dropping out, or boldly carving a new path? You often can't tell yourself. Plenty of people who will later do great things seem to be disappointments early on, when they're trying to find their niche.

Is there some test you can use to keep yourself honest? One is to try to do a good job at whatever you're doing, even if you don't like it. Then at least you'll know you're not using dissatisfaction as an excuse for being lazy. Perhaps more importantly, you'll get into the habit of doing things well.

Another test you can use is: always produce. For example, if you have a day job you don't take seriously because you plan to be a novelist, are you producing? Are you writing pages of fiction, however bad? As long as you're producing, you'll know you're not merely using the hazy vision of the grand novel you plan to write one day as an opiate. The view of it will be obstructed by the all too palpably flawed one you're actually writing.

"Always produce" is also a heuristic for finding the work you love. If you subject yourself to that constraint, it will automatically push you away from things you think you're supposed to work on, toward things you actually like. "Always produce" will discover your life's work the way water, with the aid of gravity, finds the hole in your roof.

Of course, figuring out what you like to work on doesn't mean you get to work on it. That's a separate question. And if you're ambitious you have to keep them separate: you have to make a conscious effort to keep your ideas about what you want from being contaminated by what seems possible.

It's painful to keep them apart, because it's painful to observe the gap between them. So most people pre-emptively lower their expectations. For example, if you asked random people on the street if they'd like to be able to draw like Leonardo, you'd find most would say something like "Oh, I can't draw." This is more a statement of intention than fact; it means, I'm not going to try. Because the fact is, if you took a random person off the street and somehow got them to work as hard as they possibly could at drawing for the next twenty years, they'd get surprisingly far. But it would require a great moral effort; it would mean staring failure in the eye every day for years. And so to protect themselves people say "I can't."

Another related line you often hear is that not everyone can do work they love—that someone has to do the unpleasant jobs. Really? How do you make them? In the US the only mechanism for forcing people to do unpleasant jobs is the draft, and that hasn't been invoked for over 30 years. All we can do is encourage people to do unpleasant work, with money and prestige.

If there's something people still won't do, it seems as if society just has to make do without. That's what happened with domestic servants. For millennia that was the canonical example of a job "someone had to do." And yet in the mid twentieth century servants practically disappeared in rich countries, and the rich have just had to do without.

So while there may be some things someone has to do, there's a good chance anyone saying that about any particular job is mistaken. Most unpleasant jobs would either get automated or go undone if no one were willing to do them.

Two Routes

There's another sense of "not everyone can do work they love" that's all too true, however. One has to make a living, and it's hard to get paid for doing work you love. There are two routes to that destination:

The organic route: as you become more eminent, gradually to increase the parts of your job that you like at the expense of those you don't.

The two-job route: to work at things you don't like to get money to work on things you do.

The organic route is more common. It happens naturally to anyone who does good work. A young architect has to take whatever work he can get, but if he does well he'll gradually be in a position to pick and choose among projects. The disadvantage of this route is that it's slow and uncertain. Even tenure is not real freedom.

The two-job route has several variants depending on how long you work for money at a time. At one extreme is the "day job," where you work regular hours at one job to make money, and work on what you love in your spare time. At the other extreme you work at something till you make enough not to have to work for money again.

The two-job route is less common than the organic route, because it requires a deliberate choice. It's also more dangerous. Life tends to get more expensive as you get older, so it's easy to get sucked into working longer than you expected at the money job. Worse still, anything you work on changes you. If you work too long on tedious stuff, it will rot your brain. And the best paying jobs are most dangerous, because they require your full attention.

The advantage of the two-job route is that it lets you jump over obstacles. The landscape of possible jobs isn't flat; there are walls of varying heights between different kinds of work. [7] The trick of maximizing the parts of your job that you like can get you from architecture to product design, but not, probably, to music. If you make money doing one thing and then work on another, you have more freedom of choice.

Which route should you take? That depends on how sure you are of what you want to do, how good you are at taking orders, how much risk you can stand, and the odds that anyone will pay (in your lifetime) for what you want to do. If you're sure of the general area you want to work in and it's something people are likely to pay you for, then you should probably take the organic route. But if you don't know what you want to work on, or don't like to take orders, you may want to take the two-job route, if you can stand the risk.

Don't decide too soon. Kids who know early what they want to do seem impressive, as if they got the answer to some math question before the other kids. They have an answer, certainly, but odds are it's wrong.

A friend of mine who is a quite successful doctor complains constantly about her job. When people applying to medical school ask her for advice, she wants to shake them and yell "Don't do it!" (But she never does.) How did she get into this fix? In high school she already wanted to be a doctor. And she is so ambitious and determined that she overcame every obstacle along the way—including, unfortunately, not liking it.

Now she has a life chosen for her by a high-school kid.

When you're young, you're given the impression that you'll get enough information to make each choice before you need to make it. But this is certainly not so with work. When you're deciding what to do, you have to operate on ridiculously incomplete information. Even in college you get little idea what various types of work are like. At best you may have a couple internships, but not all jobs offer internships, and those that do don't teach you much more about the work than being a batboy teaches you about playing baseball.

In the design of lives, as in the design of most other things, you get better results if you use flexible media. So unless you're fairly sure what you want to do, your best bet may be to choose a type of work that could turn into either an organic or two-job career. That was probably part of the reason I chose computers. You can be a professor, or make a lot of money, or morph it into any number of other kinds of work.

It's also wise, early on, to seek jobs that let you do many different things, so you can learn faster what various kinds of work are like. Conversely, the extreme version of the two-job route is dangerous because it teaches you so little about what you like. If you work hard at being a bond trader for ten years, thinking that you'll quit and write novels when you have enough money, what happens when you quit and then discover that you don't actually like writing novels?

Most people would say, I'd take that problem. Give me a million dollars and I'll figure out what to do. But it's harder than it looks. Constraints give your life shape. Remove them and most people have no idea what to do: look at what happens to those who win lotteries or inherit money. Much as everyone thinks they want financial security, the happiest people are not those who have it, but those who like what they do. So a plan that promises freedom at the expense of knowing what to do with it may not be as good as it seems.

Whichever route you take, expect a struggle. Finding work you love is very difficult. Most people fail. Even if you succeed, it's rare to be free to work on what you want till your thirties or forties. But if you have the destination in sight you'll be more likely to arrive at it. If you know you can love work, you're in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you're practically there.

  • Currently we do the opposite: when we make kids do boring work, like arithmetic drills, instead of admitting frankly that it's boring, we try to disguise it with superficial decorations.
  • One father told me about a related phenomenon: he found himself concealing from his family how much he liked his work. When he wanted to go to work on a saturday, he found it easier to say that it was because he "had to" for some reason, rather than admitting he preferred to work than stay home with them.
  • Something similar happens with suburbs. Parents move to suburbs to raise their kids in a safe environment, but suburbs are so dull and artificial that by the time they're fifteen the kids are convinced the whole world is boring.
  • I'm not saying friends should be the only audience for your work. The more people you can help, the better. But friends should be your compass.
  • Donald Hall said young would-be poets were mistaken to be so obsessed with being published. But you can imagine what it would do for a 24 year old to get a poem published in The New Yorker. Now to people he meets at parties he's a real poet. Actually he's no better or worse than he was before, but to a clueless audience like that, the approval of an official authority makes all the difference. So it's a harder problem than Hall realizes. The reason the young care so much about prestige is that the people they want to impress are not very discerning.
  • This is isomorphic to the principle that you should prevent your beliefs about how things are from being contaminated by how you wish they were. Most people let them mix pretty promiscuously. The continuing popularity of religion is the most visible index of that.
  • A more accurate metaphor would be to say that the graph of jobs is not very well connected.