Thursday, August 30, 2012

Settlers and Shapers

As we spend our days carving out a living, most of us do so by switching between chasing our pension and pursuing our passion. I don't know that I have been "chasing" either over the last few years, but I do know that I have been fortunate enough to simultaneously spend time doing both. For me, it has not been a question of one or the other. For the last several years I have been truly excited about going to "work" each day and having recently passed the twenty year milestone, making a military pension is a reality.  Not having to choose between passion and pension is a wonderful place to be, but I must admit that it is not a place I have always been. I know far too many people who settle for a job or a career that allows them to pursue their passions on the side ("Settlers"), while a smaller number pursue their passions in hopes of turning their dreams into a career ("Shapers"). I feel sorry for the former and have a great deal of respect for the latter. That said, I have spent more of my professional life than I care to admit as a Settler. I will also acknowledge that once I cracked the code and realized that Shapers not only exist, but also thrive in today's military, everything changed.

As a junior officer, I settled for the jobs the detailer gave me. I settled for the tasks my seniors handed me. I settled for the way things have always been done. In time, the right mentors, books, and personal experimentation helped me to shift gears and adopt a Shaper's approach to life. Yes, I acknowledged the position description that my predecessors handed me and, yes, I cautiously contributed to progress during the honeymoon phase of each assignment. But once I understood the sea state to the point I felt confident  navigating the waters and grew bored merely maintaining the course and speed to which my predecessor had acclimated the team, I eagerly shifted from Settler to Shaper. Other than my first two tours, I have refrained from merely executing my assigned job and I can tell you that I never will return to the ways of a Settler. I've learned just how much more fun it is to rewrite a job as I go, and how much more rewarding any job can be when we focus on HOW we choose to execute as much as THAT we achieve the results we desire. Because I work in team environments, I have found that settling for what the position description demands does nothing more than ensure the team falls short. An effective team is made up of individuals who work together to complement each other, to anticipate needs, and to create both opportunities and unique value. A team of individuals settling themselves into their position descriptions is rarely effective and even if it is, the team will never realize its true potential.

Having just turned over a job about which I have never been more passionate, I am comfortable admitting that I am not excited about my next one. I will read the position description and I will listen to the expectations of my seniors, but that will merely influence the prologue of the script that I will write.  I will then turn to my peers and my juniors and we will truly begin to put pen to paper and action behind words. Just as I have done with the last several jobs I have had, the job I will turn over to my relief will look nothing like the one I inherit.  And that's the reason this adventure continues to be so much fun. If it weren't fun, I'd be gone.

For me, the key to living a professional life where pension and passion are aligned begins with truly understanding my passion and embracing a Shaper's philosophy.  As for my passion...I love people, I love building teams, I love helping others to realize their potential, and I love contributing in ways that others are not. I just happen to be doing all of that as a member of the world's finest Navy. Once I exhaust opportunities to do those very things in uniform, I'll merely do the same wearing different clothes.

Life is far too short to be Settlers; let's be Shapers, let's not worry about filling the shoes of our predecessors, let's rewrite the scripts we inherit...

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