John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.
In Glory, one of my favorite movies, Private Trip, played by Denzel Washington, has this conversation with his commanding officer, Colonel Shaw, played by Matthew Broderick:
Trip: I ain’t fightin’ this war for you, sir.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: I see.
Trip: I mean, what’s the point? Ain’t nobody gonna win. It’s just gonna go on and on.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Can’t go on forever.
Trip: Yeah, but ain’t nobody gonna win, sir.
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Somebody’s gonna win.
Trip: Who? I mean, you get to go on back to Boston, big house and all that. What about us? What do we get?
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: Well, you won’t get anything if we lose.
Shaw led the first all-black volunteer company in the Civil War, facing prejudice on all sides. Trip brings up the reality of war and, at first, a feeling of purposelessness. At the end of the movie, however, he credits his unit, the 54th, for giving him his life’s purpose. They then charge into battle, giving their lives for the purpose of freedom.
What are your favorite movies? What are your favorite characters in those movies? Who do you relate to most, and how do they speak to you?
Another favorite of mine is One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, not only because it was a great movie and the character Chief finally speaks, but because my dad and I watched it together. I loved that movie for its greatness, but loved it more because I experienced the intensity of it with my dad at 11 years old. In Glory, I loved the story, but mostly I loved the relationship and characters that Broderick, Washington and Morgan Freeman played as they came together for their fateful, worthy cause.
As transformative as movies are to many of us during our lives, the most important movie or story for all of us is being written, produced and directed right now in our life. People consume more stories of others than they do of themselves on places like Netflix. But at critical times, our personal and career stories transcend the greatest shows and movies we consume. In other words, we need to get more intentional about how fleeting life is and how precious our purpose should be.
Here are a couple of ways to anchor more intention from experience in your life and career into greater lessons learned.
1. Think Back To A Powerful Emotional Moment And Apply Lessons Learned
Here’s an example from my own life. As a 21-year-old lieutenant-in-training in the army at Fort Knox, Kentucky, I, along with my fellow lieutenant, John, decided to road trip to Lexington, where we took in the racecourse and the town. The problem started at 3 a.m. (like most problems). Add alcohol and bravado. Now I am in the parking lot facing a dozen men who had arrived late in a limo and two jeeps. The leader of the group walked toward me, fists clenched. How silly would it have been for me to strike him or use my military training to increase tension? I and my buddy were just finally out having some fun, and the last thing we needed to do as newly commissioned officers was put our military training into a barroom brawl.
Lesson Learned: You can be the person who brings down conflict and decreases tension. No matter what preparation you have to “go to war,” in business or the military, the true art of war in business and even in the military is to be the peacemaker and be the person or the entity who finds alternative solutions to reduce conflict and find peaceful solutions.
What’s a powerful emotional moment in your life so far? What lessons can you take from that moment?
2. Connect To The Brevity Of Your Life
My whole life I have heard it said in regard to children that They grow up fast. I have heard and you have probably heard the cliche Life is short and the various completions to that line. When I was faced with a child and now, thankfully, a young adult who had multiple life-threatening accidents due to seizures, I never really contemplated these phrases. Many people reading this have lost loved ones or faced personal medical situations that put the shortness of life into a new perspective. Even though I think I would have traded these situations for a less dramatic life, they have helped my perspective.
Lesson Learned: I do take time to enjoy my children and enjoy my life much more today than I did 15 years ago. Now I don’t take my work stress home as much. And when I am with my kids, I am (usually) very present in even the so-called mundane things. At work, when I am short with people or under stress and say things I regret, I apologize quickly and make amends. I think, Do I want this to be my legacy? What if this is the last experience I ever have with this person?
We don’t know how long we have to live this combined work and personal life, even if we are not charging the hill for our very glorious freedoms. We do know or should know how precious each moment is with those who we are to influence at work and at home. In each situation, we must ask, Will those who we are to assist, encourage, influence and compete against think well of us? Did we act honorably? Did we try to better the situation, or did we escalate the negative?
Making better life, career and personal decisions in the little things I now realize will often impact others more than “big accomplishments” or milestones. If positivity is part of my purpose, I want each scene to be authentic and each moment to be recorded.
Film is about small moments. Your personal and career life are about the same. With all the glorious stories of others out there, take your own story moments the most seriously and get to worthy fights long before you charge that hill.
John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina. Read John M. O’Connor’s full executive profile here. Read Less