By Pepper de Callier
This is one of my favorite times of the year because it is a natural break in all the activity of the previous 12 months. It is also a natural time for one of the most important things we can do as sentient beings—reflect. By reflecting I mean thinking about the things and people who have been important to us over the past year—someone who went out of their way to help us do something, someone we went out of our way to help, what we’ve learned about ourselves in the past year, what we’ve learned about others, where we excelled and where we fell short, and what we want to accomplish in the year ahead.
For years I have written New Years letters to those few people who have really had an impact on my life during the year thanking them for their help, example, or guidance as a way of letting them know how important they have been to my personal growth. It’s a nice way to bond a friendship and to remember those who matter in our lives. Speaking of those who matter most brings me to the topic of my wish for you in the New Year.
Many years ago, as a young professional trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life and what was important to me, I met a wonderful man, Sam Cohen, who was my mentor for a period in my life. Sam was a man of incredible insight and he had a gift for asking very probing and thought provoking questions. He had a caring but direct manner about him that cut through all the background noise in life and got right to the point. Even to this day, some thirty years later, I recall conversations with Sam as if they were taking place right now. I can see the frown on his face as he listens to me and the smile he warmed the room with when I finally got the point of what he was trying to get me to understand.
There was one conversation we were having that I recall frequently, especially at this time of year. I was feeling kind of low because I felt I was capable of accomplishing more in my career and my life. I was probably feeling sorry for myself wishing that someone would help me out a little bit—care about me. Sam smiled and looked at me with a firmness in his gaze and said, “Pepper, no one should care as much about you as you should.” It was Sam’s way of saying, “Hey, wake up. It’s a tough world out there—that’s no surprise. Now, if you really do care about yourself, what do you plan to do for yourself in order to move your life and career to the next level?”
Like so many conversations with Sam, his words, his manner, and his message had the effect of someone throwing a bucket of cold water on me in the middle of deep sleep in a warm bed. Sam’s message was clear: We are all responsible for how we manage one of the most valuable assets we will ever have—our lives.
I read once that Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric, told a group of aspiring young executives, “My wish for you is that with every day you are here at GE, you become more employable—either here or somewhere else.” And that, dear reader, is my New Year’s wish for you: That in the new year you will become more employable and more valuable, either where you are currently working or to another employer.
How? By caring enough about yourself to ask yourself objectively, just as Sam would tell you to do, “What is it I can improve on? What can I learn or become better at that would make me more valuable? Who can I help to grow this year that will make me a more valuable member of the team? These are the questions that lead one to excellence in their lives and their careers. It’s not about what others can do for you. What it’s really about is how you can become more valuable to others. This is how aspiring executives propel themselves forward in their careers and gain recognition that goes beyond the walls of their current employer. They take an honest look at who they are and where they can improve in order to add even more value, and they make the commitment to become better, or in Jack Welch’s words, more employable.
So, Happy New Year!!! May this year be filled with growth, challenge, and fulfillment for you as you find ways in which to become more employable.
Good luck on your way up!
About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at www.pragueleadershipinstitute.com