Shine where you swim. How the mahi mahi is the key to finding success and fulfillment at work.

If you have ever seen the mahi mahi fish, you know that it is amazing. The mahi is a splendid mix of blues, yellows, and greens and when you pull one into the boat, you are stunned at how beautiful it is. Yet as colorful as that fish is to look at on the boat, it is luminescent when it is in the water. As soon as it hits the air, its colors start to fade. When it is in its element, it shines.  I was thinking about the mahi recently when talking about finding the right place to work.

When you are confident and successful at your job, you are in your element.  Like the mahi, you shine.  However, when you are not doing what you know you can do, even though you may be successful, that shine is not there.  When you get down to it, awareness is the key. How do you know you are where you need to be?  That is the question I am struggling with.  Does the mahi know how awesome he is in the water and when he is out of the water his shine will dim?

It is not an uncommon question.  Many times when we are at work whether we are teaching, selling, or simply doing what we do best, we begin to wonder “What if I was somewhere else?”  We wonder about other opportunities, jobs, careers, etc.?  How do we know we are in the right spot?  The answer is out there.  It is not cut and dry, but when we have faith and we keep looking, the answer tends to find us.  Like one of my oldest friends who found life and fulfillment behind the wheel of a big rig.

Keep on Trucking

My brother, Joe, is a truck driver.  Truckers are the backbone of our commercial system.  Literally, if you bought it, a truck brought it.  The life of the OTR (over the road) truck driver can be solitary and demanding.  The current government regulations have put strict guidelines on how long truckers can be on the road, how many hours they can drive in a day, how fast they can go, routes to take, etc.  Plus, they have instituted a system of electronic monitoring that tracks their every move.  In short, it is a career that asks much, and requires much more.

crete_2015Joe, however, is exactly what a truck driver should be.  He is conscientious, safety focused, organized, and happy.  He waxes on about how awesome the country is as he tools along the highways and byways.  He willingly spends 24 hours a day, three weeks a month living and working in a 50-square foot home, office, and transportation device.  At the end of the month he can spend 4 days wherever he decides to land (usually at the beach). It wasn’t always this way.  Joe spent years in sales, management, customer service, and even tending bar.  It wasn’t until he was close to rock bottom that he stumbled into what he considers his calling.

“I always felt like I was chasing something” Joe told me. “I was running from problem to problem, managing employees or selling products and never felt in control.”  “Am I in the right career?” was never a question Joe asked.  It was just a quest to keep moving and to hang on to whatever was in front of him.  “I was trying to be something that never felt right.”  That all changed when he discovered a career that put him in charge of his life and eliminated distractions and the feeling of helplessness.  “Now, I get up every morning with a new challenge in front of me.  I plan my day, where I am going to go, where I am going to stop, when I am going to deliver.  I feel in control.”  That sense of accomplishment is a big deal in our day to day and something he was missing.  Stephen Covey preaches that a well laid out plan of attack helps us feel in control of what we are doing and minimizes variables we may encounter.

Joe creates a mental checklist which guides him.  That checklist eliminates many wrong turns and makes his day much more organized.  This organization makes him feel better about his day.  In his 2009 book The Checklist Manifesto, author Atul Gawande details how the making of and the reliance on detailed checklists leads to consistency, better accuracy, and higher job satisfaction.  Gawande, himself a doctor, details how surgeons, pilots, and astronauts rely on intricate checklists to deal with their high stress jobs and better meet the needs of their clients.  The checklist eliminates mistakes, and gives us the sense that if something goes wrong, it is not because we didn’t have our bases covered.  This is not lost on our educational system.  We teach our young students, especially those with problems focusing, to make lists in their planners and check them off as they finish.  This works both as an organizational tool and to show them daily success.  Those little wins breed confidence and better job satisfaction.

Building a sense of control

checklistJoe talks about how much he enjoys the feeling of being in control and how that feeling breeds confidence and job satisfaction.  With a job, such as a truck driver that requires intense concentration and anticipation of what others may do; control is crucial to his success.   We spend years building the sense of control in our jobs.  Sometimes, it is cut and dry; the teacher who starts their class with a well-crafted and proven lesson plan knows what he is talking about.  At other times, it comes from confidence in our learning and abilities; such as the salesman who shows up at the office armed with product knowledge and the ability to solve the customer’s problem. It can even be in our ability to manage others and have the experience to handle whatever comes.  Think of the manager who, like a quarterback, surveys the field knowing who is doing what and what will be need to be done next.   However, you build that confidence in yourself, it leads to higher job satisfaction and the glowing of the mahi mahi.

While the mahi is a beautiful fish we too see beauty all around us daily.  Too often however, we get consumed in what we are doing to appreciate that beauty.  Seeing awesome things and acknowledging them is one of the missing keys to finding that job satisfaction.  Joe talks about his favorite time driving is early in the morning and watching the sunrise.  “I get up and start my day usually between 3 and 4 in the morning.  I do it because watching a sunrise is amazing no matter where you are.”  Joe has found beauty in many of the simple things we sometimes rush past.  Noticing awesomeness in our day to day helps us appreciate what we have and encourages us to be better at it.  The salesperson who travels by air and posts a great picture of the clouds and sun outside the window of his plane knows what this means.  The person who shares a picture of an amazing grilled cheese sandwich or tuft of grass growing through the sidewalk gets it too.  We need to be conscious of the beauty and awesomeness of our day to day living.  Giving those things the acknowledgement and appreciation they deserve helps us see the bigger picture and tip our hat to how cool that picture can be.

The key to knowing if we are in the right place, like the mahi, is not how we handle our daily struggles but in how aware we are in the things around us.  If we have that sense of accomplishment, we feel a sense of control, and see the awesomeness around us, we are glowing.  Shine on my friend, shine on.

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