Life Sentences

In 1962, Clare Boothe Luce, one of the first women to serve in the U.S. Congress, offered some practical counsel to President John. F. Kennedy. “A great president,” she told him, “is one sentence. Abraham Lincoln’s one sentence was, He preserved the union and freed the slaves. Franklin Roosevelt’s was, He lifted us out of a great depression and helped us win the war.” Luce feared that the young Kennedy’s attention was wavering among such different priorities and that his sentence risked becoming a muddled paragraph.

These wise words about career clarity probably made a different in President Kennedy’s success and are worthy to be heeded by all. However, neither Lincoln, FDR nor JFK could have pre-planned how their great career sentence would read in the end. A study of these men will show that their career sentence became what it became, because of the underpinning sentences they had created years before about faith, family and a fulfilling life.

Data from national surveys continue to imply that a large majority of highly talented, young professionals feel a burden to write their big career sentence in a short time. They jump from job to job in search of their ideal next level position. At this same time baby boomers are trying to understand how to alter their career sentence as they face retirement age. Unlike their younger colleagues many freeze like a nervous kid standing on a high-dive board for the first time. With white-knuckled hold on the hand rails of indecision he or she looks back and sees an empty ladder. The top notch people, who once stood there, waiting their turn to lead, left for a better looking opportunity. And the wheels of the truck go round and round. Another muddled paragraph is written.

Journal Entry: If you are continually concerned about your career sentence, I have a suggestion: forget about it for the next 30-40 days. Use this time to work on your other life sentences. Most people find when they do this their career sentence will almost write itself. Then decisions get much easier in leadership and life.

Reference (inspiration for this edition): Drive, the new book by Daniel H. Pink; How will you measure your life, the HBR July 2010 article by Clayton M. Christensen; Mark 6:38 The Bible.

 

Leadership and Life Journal: A new way to look at the important things you already know.