The room was full of strangers. It was an experiment. And, we had no idea what would happen next. But, what did happen was extraordinary.
While corporations, leaders, academia, and organizational psychologists hypothesize about the ingredients of success, any one of us can look at the people in our lives and find exceptions. We all know people who kicked and clawed their way from the bottom to the top. We all know exceptionally credentialed people who, for some reason, experienced marginal success. And, at least we've heard of the few who have become legacies.
I'm just as fascinated with success as you. It is one of the driving forces in my own career. I hunt for the mind-blowing interviews. I search for great stories. And, I've found them, literally, everywhere.
"Can we get a volunteer from the audience?" my team asked the room--not knowing who would respond. "Anyone?"
A gentleman raised his hand.
"We just want to ask you some questions," we said. And he agreed.
Over the next fifteen minutes we asked the man to describe his memories of elementary school. We asked about his teachers. We asked about the playground. And we asked if he could tell us about any moments he could remember where someone recognized him--his talent in a certain area, his intellect, or his skill. He told us his story.
Then we asked about high school. Maybe his peer group had grown. Instead of just teachers, relatives, and friends, we asked him if he recalled any coaches or crushes--people who recognized him for different qualities. Maybe they told him he was tenacious. Maybe they told him they liked him because of his sense of humor.
Again, he told us his story.
Then we asked the man about his early career and first bosses. We asked him to explain moments where employers recognized his work--to tell us about meaningful moments. And, again, he told us his story. He even provided word-for-word accounts of what his bosses said, and detailed descriptions about how those words made him feel.
"We're going to guess, based on the stories you've told us, what you do today," we said.
We guessed. And, we arrived at a job title that was close enough to call our exercise a win. The recognition moments of his life not only told us where he had been. But they also dictated where he would go next.
After this experiment, I began asking everyone I met about stories of appreciation. I talked to thousands of people for our latest book. I'd ask people at restaurants and on airplanes. And, I'd ask audiences I spoke to around the world.
What does this have to do with your future? That depends on your past. No matter what you do as a career today, or whether you want to be there or not. And, no matter what you think you should be doing in the future, I want to ask you some questions...because many of the answers about what you should do next' may already exist.
1. What struck your nerve?
If you're unclear about what you should do next, look back into your own history and recall moments where you were appreciated, and the words someone spoke struck a deep nerve. Think about why it impacted you. And start looking for ways to repeat, or improve, the behavior that earned you their recognition.
2. Who struck your nerve?
Often times when I first asked people about moments of appreciation at work, their mind would draw a blank. In fact, many struggled. Then I would expand the question, asking them about moments where a customer, vendor, or peer might have loved their work. Again, because most of us work for bosses, we often believe they are the primary recipients of our talent. But, they might not be the people who we really care about impressing. Recall who struck a nerve. And, find other opportunities to repeat or improve.
3. Where is your happiness?
The monotony of work often makes us forget about the rewards of a job well done. And, I'm not just talking about financial rewards. I'm talking about finding happiness from being proud of the work you've done--those instances where you maybe even impressed yourself. Recall those moments and look for opportunities to find that happiness again.
Too often we wait for others--the people we deem important--to tell us what we should do next. The irony is, many of them already have.