1,000 Senior Leaders were Interviewed, and What They Said was Shocking
Before we get to the question, it’ll help you to understand why it was being asked in the first place:
How It Began
As a child, I relished the occasional opportunity to hangout with my father at his office; often when we had a school holiday.
My Dad worked downtown, in what had once been a newspaper office building that was located just a few steps away from Independence Hall.
He had an office, and a secretary, but what I found most impressive was his business card.
There was something about having a business card that said to the world “I’ve made it” (or so I thought at the tender young age of 8).
To my young mind, it was the corporate version of a baseball card.
But as I got older, the business card — much like my collection of baseball cards — lost its magical powers over me.
I decided I never wanted to work downtown.
Instead, when I grew up, I wanted to be a musician.
After graduating university, the student loan invoices started arriving in the mail. Monthly.
My parents generosity waning, I went out in search of an escape from the “Natty Ice and Ramen Noodles” tax bracket.
I needed a real life, honest to goodness, J-O-B.
After several interviews — fewer than I had thought it would take — there I was, with my very own business card.
It read: “Gregory Offner Jr — Sales Professional”
The Great Pretender
The company that hired me was a midwest, super corporate, clean shaven type of culture sales organization.
It probably won’t surprise you to know that I was not an instant culture fit.
Mainly because I kept falling asleep in sales meetings and on ride alongs.
It was only after one of the senior sales reps had “the talk” with me — saying: “…if you don’t start taking this seriously, you’re going to be fired faster than you can say unemployment” — that I straightened up.
Shortly after that, I became one of the top performers in my division. But still, it was all show.
Playing my part, saying my lines; I was acting.
I would say or do whatever it took to keep the paychecks hitting my bank account each Friday.
If that meant being a top performer (which is exactly what my boss expected) then that’s what I would do…but no more.
But there was one part of the job I absolutely loved.
Over six years, I conducted approximately 12 sales calls each week.
That’s more than 3,000 meetings; but since some were follow-up calls, let’s agree that at least 1,000 were conversations with unique / new individuals.
The people I met with had titles ranging from C-Level to Director / VP, and in many of my early sales calls, I’d hear them say “you’re young enough to be my son” as I walked in the room.
I had to build a strong rapport, quickly, in order to be seen by these prospects as a serious professional.
The questions I’d ask to build rapport varied from prospect to prospect, depending on their industry and what I could gather from their corporate bio.
But for the first 3 years of my career, one question consistently made it onto my pre-call plan sheet.
At the beginning of the meeting, I would say: “Mr Prospect, your company has an impressive reputation and I’ve done a bit of research on the organization but before we begin I’d love to know a little more about you; how did you wind up working here at [company]?”
Sometimes they’d ask me: “What do you mean, how did I wind up here?”
And I’d clarify.
I’d say “I mean, how did you wind up as a [whatever their title was] here at [whatever company they worked for].
Now, to be fair 30% of the people had a story, or at least walked me through their resume and the path they took. Even if it was “I married the boss’ daughter and here I am”
But 70% of the time, the look I got reminded me of that scene from Office Space (still, to this date, one of my all time favorite movies).
Tom Smykowsky, played by Richard Riehle ©️20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved
Once they realized I was serious, they’d look at me and say some variation of: “They had a job opening, I applied to it, and I got the job.”
They had a job opening, I applied, and I got it
Now, by most standards, one thousand people is large sample size.
Even if we adjust for people giving a flip answer because they were having a bad day, this means nearly 50% of leaders who go to work every day are there because “[the company] had a vacancy and they hired me”.
Where’s the passion?
Work is where we spend the majority of our waking hours in adulthood.
Could you imagine turning to your partner or spouse and asking “Honey, why are we together” and hearing the answer “Well you were single, and you asked me to stay.”
There is a point that I’m making here but first, please indulge just one more story.
Any Last Words?
Three years ago, I spent some time with a man named Darien.
What makes Darien interesting is that he spends 10 hours every week volunteering with hospice patients.
During that time he speaks to people — connects with them — who have days, or sometimes only hours left to live.
The stories he’s heard could fill books, and every one would be a page turner, because there’s very little the dying won’t talk about, especially with a complete stranger.
Darien told me “What fascinates me are the similarities in the stories that my friends share with me. Nearly all of them speak about risks they didn’t take, and many of those risks relate to not doing something that they were truly passionate about.”
Which brings us to the point.
The Philosopher, Eminem
The point of this piece is that there’s a growing sense of unhappiness and discontent in the world.
I believe most of it stems from a feeling of powerlessness.
From the 50% of people who spend the majority of their waking hours somewhere they don’t actually want to be.
Darien’s conversations with his friends — anecdotally — start to confirm this.
I know that feeling of powerlessness well, and I also know how Darien’s friends feel; like they’re out of time.
That’s precisely how I felt when doctors told me I might never speak again.
When I realized that for the last 17 years, I’d “spent” my voice on something I wasn’t truly passionate about.
That experience was death-like, for me.
Out of that experience came the decision that if the paycheck was the only thing that kept me coming back to work each day, there had to be an alternative — one that didn’t involve Ramen and Natty Ice.
I committed to discovering some other way to earn money, while doing something I was passionate about.
And you can too.
Because there’s money out there.
It’s everywhere. It’s woven into the fabric of society; and it’s yours for the taking.
When you make an impact, income follows.
When you connect your passion with a mission that helps improve the life experience of others, the money flows like water over Niagara Falls.
To quote Eminem “You only get one shot”
So take it; go make your impact and the income will follow.