Friday, November 30, 2012

Friends vs. Career

Last week, my brother-in-law shared an op-ed with me written by Steven Johnson entitled We’re living the dream; we just don’t realize it.  Johnson is a frequent TED presenter and author of the new book Future Perfect.

I was reminded while reading Johnson’s piece that as much as I try to stay current, some of my perspectives, such as the divorce rate, are outdated by some 30 years.  He also makes the point that so many of the positive trends in society are the result of a “complex network of forces” including the less publicized role that government plays.

In the build up to the upcoming new year, The Futures Company is one-by-one rolling out a series of white papers regarding what futurists there call 2013 “planning horizons.” Happiness

The first, one of five around the topic of “recasting success” is entitled Happiness: Is it your business?  The 17-page paper is an excellent update on what we know and can now measure about happiness including a factoid from a survey that shows that “globally only 37% of people agree [with the statement] ‘I would be happier if I owned more material possessions.”

The report notes that “governments worldwide are also turning to happiness as a better measure of social progress than Gross Domestic Product (GDP.)”  Happiness is also making businesses take another look at how it relates to the bottom line; and social entrepreneurs are being fostered by groups such as Bull City Forward in my adopted-home of Durham, North Carolina which has historically been a center of social innovation.

The Futures white paper on happiness distinguishes the momentary experiences from moods and focuses on our current knowledge and ability to measure what it calls the six main understandings related to overall life satisfaction:

  1. Frame of mind
  2. Wealth
  3. Autonomy and competence
  4. Basic needs
  5. Meaning and engagement
  6. Personal connections

It is reassuring to learn that globally the survey shows that “87% of people feel that your relations with your spouse or partner is highly important in determining how you feel, more so than any other factor including work, health and the amount of money you have.”

Another poll, taken in October, shows that by 2 to 1, Americans prefer great friends to a great career.  The ratio was up to nearly 3 to 1 for my age group which includes people at or approaching retirement age, maybe because from that vantage point it is even easier to make the distinction.

In my former career as a community-destination marketing exec for three different communities it was always difficult to choose, both because of the fact that I went about it was very intense and all-consuming but also because it is often very political.  Key is resisting special interests, however well-intended and that made it difficult to form friendships.

Many times those who seemed to be friends would turn out to be people or cliques who wanted to make unwritten and unspoken alliances where decisions would most likely be primarily based on “who’s asking.”

I have always been blessed to have two or three very close friends from places where I’ve lived in the past as well as in the cities I’ve represented. For this I am most grateful, and one of these special friends over the years has been my soon-to-be 40-year-old daughter, a connection I treasure.

I have numerous other people who I have considered and are perceived by others to be close friends and ironically, the common denominator for each one has always been trust.

These individuals have always been people who trusted me to do what I thought was right for the community and the organizations and stakeholders I served.  They were candid and well-aware of my flaws but always looked out for me, even when it wasn’t in their best interest.

I may have conversed with these friends only once or twice each year, maybe less, now that I’ve retired it might be considered ‘just in passing,’ but I know they “have my back” if needed.  Even though we may have exchanged less than a thousand words of a personal nature during our entire acquaintance,  there remains a deep respect and bond.

In many careers such as the one where I spent 40 years, the decision is not so much making a decision between a career and friendship as it is between being “liked” or being “respected.”  Bottom line: it is not all about friends.

The Futures white paper on happiness is well worth a read, especially with the overload associated with this time of year.  To subscribe to a daily email with the other trends, click here.

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