More Than Your Job

Posted 02.20.2009

Russell A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a group of regional CEO’s.  The group was small enough that afterwards, we were able to sit around a couple of tables and talk about some of the issues they’re facing.  One woman, a hospital CEO, seemed to speak for many of her colleagues when she talked about the pressure that came with such a visible position in the community. Everyone there had their own version of that story.

It reminded me of a story that I shared with the group. Several years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Bill Russell deliver keynote remarks at a conference I was attending. 

With an NCAA championship, an Olympic gold medal and seven NBA championships with the Boston Celtics to his credit, Russell is one of the most accomplished athletes in any sport.  (If you watched the NBA All Star Game last weekend, you saw how much fun Russell had when some current day Celtics delivered a huge 75th birthday cake to him on the sidelines during a time out. )  When I heard him,  Russell closed his remarks with a story about a trip he was taking with his teammate John Havlicek during the heyday of the Celtics’ championship run in the 1960s.  Russell and Havlicek were waiting in an airport lounge for the call to board their flight.  As he was sitting there, a woman approached Russell and said, “Hey, you’re that famous basketball player aren’t you?”  Russell said, “No ma’am, I’m not.”  A little while later, someone else came up to Russell and again asked if he was a basketball player.  Again, Russell said he was not.  At that point, Havlicek leaned over to Russell and asked, ‘Russ, how come you’re telling these people you’re not a basketball player?”  Russell replied, “Because I’m not.  I am Bill Russell.  I play basketball, but I am Bill Russell.” 

The reaction that the group had to my Bill Russell story was interesting.  With a lot of them I could see the recognition on their face that said, “Oh yeah, I’m not just a CEO, I’m me.”

Last week the Wall Street Journal ran a column titled, “You Might as Well Face It: You’re Addicted to Success.“  Written by Kevin Helliker, the article makes the point that over identifying with your job is a lot “like having your entire investment in one stock.”  In other words, not a good idea.  The danger is that high stakes jobs bring opportunities for success and visibility that can be addictive.  The first hit feels so good, that you’ve got to have another and then another.  Eventually, you find that while you need the hits more and more frequently, each hit is less satisfying than the one before.  Sure sounds a lot like addiction, doesn’t it?

So, what do you do to diversify your portfolio in terms of how you view yourself?  I’ll tell you what I’m doing.  At the end of last year, I realized I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching and was running myself flat out without taking time to renew my energy and perspective.  So, this year (up until this week when I pushed too hard – need to get back on course), I’ve taken more time out of the office,  spent more time with friends and family and am reading a lot more non-work related material.  (Right now, I’m reading Team of Rivals.  Lincoln’s another great example of someone who understood that he wasn’t just his job.)

Where are you on this front?  What strategies do you have for renewing your perspective that you are more than your job?