It was a normal Tuesday at my Interior Design job. I arrived at our client’s apartment on the Upper East Side to supervise a delivery. I gave a familiar “hello!” to the two deliverers expertly assembling our client’s high-end dining room table. Upon signing my copy of the delivery slip, one of them asked me, “Is this your business?” I giggled almost immediately and responded with the truth: “No, I work for someone else.”
“It might as well be!” he retorted.
I know he was mostly teasing, but still, the thought that this colleague genuinely believed I could have been the owner of this boutique Interior Design company was extremely flattering, and certainly made me stand a bit taller as I went through the rest of my day.
I went into the office where I was greeted by my favorite doorman. I gave him a sing-songy “Good Morning!” as I do most days, and he complimented me on my consistently pleasant demeanor. “How do you do it?” he asked. “How do you manage to always keep a smile on your face?”
I was slightly thrown off by his sincere compliment. Most days we share witty banter, but today our conversation reared slightly more philosophical.
“It’s because of people like you!” I responded. And I meant it! It is VERY easy to smile if you have someone smiling back at you every morning. It’s easy to say, “Hello, how are you?” when there’s someone at the ready to ask you the same. Still though, his compliment filled me with joy, and I wanted nothing more than to spread that good energy and light around to everyone else I would encounter throughout the day.
In the afternoon on the same day, I hailed a cab to head downtown to another client’s place. I got in the car and immediately struck up conversation with the driver, a Bronx native – born and raised. I complimented his jazz music selection he had playing on the radio, and he instantly began talking about his father who owned a Harlem jazz club for thirty years called The Baby Grand. “That’s amazing!” I said. He then told me that he once had a similar conversation with another passenger who later inquired about potentially interviewing him for a newspaper publication. “I never did call her…” he told me.
“Why not?” I asked.
“What good’s it do me?” he curtly jutted. “Plus I don’t think my sisters would be too thrilled to have ME representing our family…”
I couldn’t help but pry at that last comment. “Why’s that?” I asked.
“Because I’m just a cab driver.”
Just a cab driver. I couldn’t believe the worthlessness that hung off his lips when he muttered that. I asked what it is (or rather was) his sisters did for livings, and then found out that one is a retired psychiatrist and the other is a retired judge. Okay, I could see how he might feel inferior by comparison.
My final remarks were, “Well, think of it this way. You ALL have to deal with crazy people, but only YOU get to listen to jazz music on the job.” He laughed before finally letting me out at my stop.
I kept thinking about his words. “I’m just a cab driver.” How this person didn’t feel he had the authority to tell his own story about his father because of what he does for his income. How in his mind, what he DID defined not only who HE was, but the socioeconomic status and success rate of his entire family.
His words lead me on a reflective journey that had me assessing my own career (or lack thereof) and the feelings I associate with it – Confusion. Frustration. Restlessness.
I thought about other people my age. Millions of millennials plagued with directionless instinct. With the overwhelming impulse to IMPACT, but no roadmap on HOW to do it. Those of us who followed the rules and got the degrees and landed the jobs and believed our elders who told us we COULD in fact “do anything,” only to be left with existential longing and endless dissatisfaction.
So, what’s the secret to happiness and fulfillment? Why is it that we are so drained by day’s end that we IMMEDIATELY seek refuge in social interaction, television, a workout, or a trip to the liquor cabinet? Why does work sometimes feel synonymous with a masochistic sacrifice for society? Why are we seemingly always running on fumes?
It’s because most of us long for a career that gives us the platform to INFLUENCE. We want to impact, to challenge, to CHANGE, but we don’t feel that we have the authority to do so within our current status in the workforce. This then leads us to hoard away all of our ideas, our innovation, our intentions, and with that all of our passion, genuine motives, and high frequency energy – all saved for SOMEDAY. The “someday” when we can enter the appropriate arena where we can bust them out for use. The “someday” when we can assume a position of power, prestige, and prominence. The “someday” when we feel we have an audience of people surrounding us who are WORTH our gifts and talents.
We are all holding our potential hostage, and with it our ability to feel happy and fulfilled despite our circumstances not aligning with the ideal. “If I can just get out of this dead-end job,” we tell ourselves. “If I could just land that promotion.”
A job title, a salary, a team of subordinates, a mammoth amount of responsibility, a net worth, a product, an award, any sort of self-defined “finish line” is meaningless if you go home at the end of the day feeling invisible.
Fulfillment happens in moments of connection. It happens when, among the hustle and bustle of daily discourse, someone pauses and says, not necessarily in any sort of special way, “I see you.” And no, you don’t have to be the CEO, President, Founder, or Director in order to do that.
I think about the day I had and how incredible I felt because of small acts of recognition. The palpable energy that I could feel vibrating within me. The warmth and light I strived to communicate to others in my remaining encounters throughout the day. Not because anything significant happened, but because there was such beauty injected into tiny moments that could have been meaningless. A freight deliverer, a doorman, and a cab driver all made the ordinary EXTRAORDINARY, simply by operating from a place of kindness, compassion, and sincerity.
In this life, we teach the world how to view us. You want a position of power? It isn’t JUST about working your ass off. It’s about putting in the work AND making a valid effort to connect with the people around you. You want a larger sphere of influence? It isn’t just about marketing yourself. You have to first refine yourself into someone worth buying into BEFORE you attempt to attract an audience of consumers. You want to live a happy, balanced, fulfilled life? It all starts within your mindset.
Decide to take ownership of your job, and actively recognize that what you do is only ONE facet of WHO YOU ARE. Do your work with pride, integrity, love, and passion, acknowledging that you are contributing to a functioning society – whatever you do is making SOMEONE’S life easier, and that takes a certain degree of humility and selflessness. Decide to see the beauty in where you are geographically. Take note of the colors and sights and moments shared among strangers. Decide to look to the people on your left and your right, and ASK them how their dad is feeling after his surgery, or what they did this weekend in Vermont, or if they need help making that deadline for next week’s pitch. Ask your barista how they’re doing, and LISTEN TO THEIR ANSWER. Strike up conversation with the cab driver, the doorman, the service worker, your waiter, your bank teller. Get to know the incredible, enriching, remarkable lives that parallel yours on this earth.
Decide to view the world through a lens of optimism and joy, and be amazed when you’re able to maintain this perception even after you remove the rose-colored glasses.
What a concept it would be to end the day feeling content and full rather than completely lifeless and empty.
How earth-shaking it would be for everyone to feel enough confidence and pride in themselves, that suddenly their energy could shift outward rather than inward.
How defining it is to know that these things are not a far-off fantasy, but a pending reality, contingent upon one mental shift.
You are the maestro, the CEO, the President, the Director of your own mind.
You have the ability, the authority, the freedom to choose what you focus your thoughts, time, and energy on.
Talk about power, prominence, and prestige.