THE FIVE QUESTIONS
The greatest gift is not being afraid to question.— Ruby Dee
I believe the practice of vocational courage--boldly building a life of significance and not just importance—is imperative for each and every one of us. Doing so is not just so we feel a sense of happiness or fulfillment, but because it's our responsibility and privilege to follow the path of purpose for which we have been uniquely created. Vocational courage is not simply about the job you select or the career you pursue, or about gaining fame or fortune, or even about finding your passion in life.
At its very heart, vocational courage is about finding and pursuing your true purpose in life, and about making sure your life's work is reflected in your daily work. In this first part of the book, I offer and explore in great detail the five questions I have found most effective in coaching people of all ages as they seek to discover their true purpose in life and chart a course for leading a vocationally courageous life of purpose. These five questions do not come out of thin air. I have developed them over a period of years of wrestling with vocational courage in my own life and in working with people from different walks of life, from every-day people to high-powered executives and organizations of all sizes in every sector.
The five questions I explore are:
What is success?
Who am I?
Why am I here?
Am I running the right race?
Am I running the race well?
WHAT IS SUCCESS?
We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity. — The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In high school, Annie Little's most important value was freedom, which she defined at the time as physical and financial independence from her parents. Annie's family dynamic was not a particularly pleasant one for her when growing up, and Annie was committed to doing everything she possibly could to avoid having to rely on her parents after she graduated from college. While still in high school, Annie decided that the best way to achieve her goal was to become a lawyer. Says Annie about the reasoning behind this choice, "I grew up with several friends whose parents are lawyers, and they all had nice houses, fun vacations, cool clothes, and their lawyer parents had interesting stories."
In short, lawyers were successful people, and Annie wanted to be successful, too.
So Annie put her focus on doing the things required to become a lawyer. She earned stellar grades in high school and was accepted by Northwestern University, where she majored in religion and psychology. As she neared her senior year of college, Annie scored well on the LSAT—the standardized test used by most American law schools to help make admission decisions—and she was admitted to the University of Minnesota Law School. For Annie, law school wasn't an afterthought—a fallback position—it was her first choice and her guarantee of future success.
Soon after graduating from law school, Annie was offered a position at a law firm in Philadelphia. Over the years, Annie worked her way up from an entry-level position to the partnership track. She was skilled at her job, and it seemed to suit her well. However, cracks were beginning to appear in the foundation of Annie's pathway to success, and they soon began to trip her up.
Annie was becoming increasingly frustrated that her requests for pay raises based on her performance and the profitability of the firm were being ignored. Perhaps even worse, however, was that the monotony of the work she was doing was beginning to bother her. If this was what success was supposed to look like, she thought, then it sure didn't look as glorious as she'd expected.
At about this time, Annie was offered a position with a different firm, which would allow her to expand into other areas of law while providing her with a significant salary boost. For Annie, this was a no-brainer, and she quickly accepted the position.
She was back on the fast track to success.
Until she wasn't. "I became bored and frustrated in a matter of months," says Annie. "No sooner had I learned everyone's name in my new firm than I started looking for new jobs."