During my professional career, I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to several international destinations. One of my favorite was the German town of Landstuhl near Ramstein Air Force Base, about 2 hours southwest of Frankfurt. I would stay in Landstuhl for crew rest or maintenance delays while flying missions in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom after 9/11.
In Germany, not unlike other European countries, restaurants and pubs are not just for food and libations, but also function as social gathering places where friends and family would entertain one another for several hours at a time. One of my favorite pastimes was to dine at these establishments and chat with the locals. After the exchange of common pleasantries, I’d usually ask what the person “did,” indirectly referring to what they did for a career, as is often implied by the question when asked in America. I asked this question in various forms numerous times during my visits to Landstuhl, and was pleasantly surprised each time by the response.
Who Are You?
In America, the respondent answers with their job title and a brief description. In Germany, each person I asked responded with their hobbies and/or family activities, and proceeded to expound upon them! Only after several more exchanges was career mentioned. Why don’t we respond like this in the United States? Our culture leads us to believe our identity is directly tied to our career choice.
How many times have you answered the common pleasantry question of “What do you do?” with a hobby? I know I had not until my experiences in Germany, and even now when asked, I have to make a conscious effort to respond with one of my hobbies and passions instead of my career title. But what if, like me, one of your passions is your career? How can we enhance our career passion with hobbies or interests that feed off one another and complement one another without drawing energy away from our income-earning passion: our career?
I recently had a professor during one of my EMBA classes describe the need for complementary interests as embracing you inner “And” instead of “Or.” Webster defines “and” as a function word to indicate connection or addition of items within the same class or type. Connection is the key word. All of our life pursuits are connected. They require energy from the same source— us. They also can be a source of replenishment for that necessary energy. So how do we choose these complementary and energy-granting pursuits? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, the right combination is different for each person. But there are a few questions we can ask ourselves to determine what mix is appropriate for us. If all these questions are answered with yes for a particular activity, then we have discovered our “And!”
Does the activity/interest complement our Big Three core responsibilities?
The Big Three are our belief system, family, and job. If the interest doesn’t complement all three of these, then it needs to be bypassed. No need to apply the following two questions to the interest. When I decided to start my own consulting business, I made sure it was for the right reason. Not fame or notoriety, but for financial stability should I lose my primary job. The friends I made and the companies I was able to help also provided a lot of fulfillment, which lead me to think about the next question.
What fulfills you?
What prompts you to bring your best energy to the world? For me it was not only my small business venture but also my passion for cancer research. My mother is a colon cancer survivor. Experiencing first-hand the horrible effects of cancer not only on the patient but also on family and friends motivated me to apply for a position on the American Cancer Society of Southern Nevada’s Associate Board of Ambassadors (ABOA) The ABOA is a board comprised of young professionals with a passion to see a cure for cancer developed in their lifetime. Knowing my efforts may lead to the eradication of cancer and a world where families will never know its devastation is my version of fulfillment.
Is the timing in life appropriate?
You CAN have it all, just not all at once. I had to think long and hard about this question when I expressed interest in enrolling in an EMBA program during maternity leave from my major U.S. airline. Obtaining a MBA had been a long-time-goal, but would it complement my core responsibilities and grant fulfillment? After much discussion with my family and life-long mentors, I determined it was. And it’s been one of the best career and life decisions I’ve ever made.
Is the interest or activity enriching the lives of others?
Will your endeavor be enhancing the lives of your fellow humans? When I moved to Las Vegas there was no time-maximizing networking group for business professionals specifically catering to women. Only a few sporadic MeetUp groups existed, and they lacked the professional development paired with the social networking I felt Las Vegas needed. We ladies are often our worst enemies or biggest supporters. I’m fond of the latter, and wanted to facilitate the growth of that mentality. This passion compelled me to organize the Las Vegas Professional Chapter of NAWMBA in February of this year, and together with 68 event attendees and a great volunteer leadership team we’ve made a very positive community impact.
What will be your “And” or “Ands” in life? What will now be your answer to the question of “What do you do?” We are all a composite of life experiences…including our careers, but not only our careers. Embrace your “And”.