Sunday, March 30, 2014

Leave No Asset Unharvested

The other day I was listening to an interview with a successful cartoon voice actor. When asked about his work experience at a major television network, he said the best about his job was, they used every part of him like a buffalo.

We should all be lucky enough to work that way.

Firing on all cylinders, making use of everything we are, exploiting talents we didn’t know we had, keeping all of our passions in play, using our strengths to do what we do best and leaving no faculty untapped.

Just like the indigenous people.

According to the book The Mystic Warriorsof the Plains, two hundred years ago, buffalo actually outnumbered humans by a factor of twenty. It’s no surprise, then, that they became a veritable one stop shop for the early settlers. Clocking in at no less than two thousand pounds, buffalo were used for just about everything:

The meat? Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
The tail? Fly brushes, lodge decorations and whips.
The buckskin? Clothing, lance covers, bags and cases.
The hooves? Glue, rattles, hatchets or butchering mallets.
The horns? Cups, fire carriers, spoons, ladles, signals and toys.
The hair? Headdresses, saddle filler, pillows, rope and ornaments.

The dung? Fuel for cooking and heating.
The sinew? Ropes, cords, bow strings and thread.
The innards? Containers, tobacco pouches and baby rattles.
The bones? Needles, ground pegs, decorations and religion artifacts.
The tallow? Healing ointments, mixing paints, food sealers and glue.
The rawhide? Medicine bags, shields, buckets, knife cases and horse stirrups.

That’s what you call creating value. In the today’s culture, the buffalo would make employee of the month, every month, until they retired.

And so the question is, in a world constantly conspiring to make us less than we are, filled with people invested in keeping us in our lane, how can we be more like the buffalo? How can we avoid limiting ourselves to one vision of our capabilities?
Fortunately, there’s no right way to do it. There are as many career paths as there are people to take them. Let’s explore a few of them.

A few years ago, I had two epiphanies.

First, that I was bored, burned out and lonely after working for myself for twelve straight years. Second, that I had no desire to scale in order to burn out even more.

I decided to go on summer sabbatical, in search of the next stone on my professional path and discern the future horizon of my work. During those three months, I read a book that had a profound effect on my decision called The Startup of You, written by Reid Hoffman, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and the cofounder of LinkedIn. His observations were as follows:

“Instead of locking yourself into a single career path, keeping your career in permanent beta, forcing yourself to acknowledge that you have bugs, that there’s new development to do on yourself, and that you will need to adapt and evolve.”

Eventually, I made the decision to stay true my entrepreneurial spirit, while still enlarging my concept of work itself. I ended up taking a full time job that allowed me to continue to expand my journey by day, while holding onto my own unique brand, business and artistic endeavors by night.

This couldn’t have been a healthier path for me. Embracing the best of both worlds, holding down a day job, but also keeping all my passions in play by investing in multiple containers of meaning, was incredibly satisfying. Because even though I changed my narrative to connote a different meaning, it was still one that remained true to reality.

I’m reminded of something my mentor said that I’ll never forget:

“The definition of work, of career, of what is and is not a business, are forever altered and can be molded to fit anything that excites and feeds your soul, if you choose to explore it intentionally. Your option for how to create fulfilling work is only limited by your imagination’s ability to create scenarios that excite you.”

So that’s one path.

But what about this one?

Jared Leto, who first achieved mainstream recognition as an actor in the nineties, also successfully pursued careers as a musician, director, producer, activist, philanthropist, photographer, filmmaker and businessman.

He’s one of my favorite multi hyphenates. Plus he has dreamy eyes.

During a recent interview, he said that a few years ago, he sought out to make another film for the first time in four years, just to see of there was anything else left in that world for him.

Apparently, there was.

Leto’s groundbreaking performance as a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club received critical acclaim and earned him an Oscar, Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actor’s Guild Award.

But the best part was, once award season was over, he was back on tour with his band, traveling the world, playing music for millions of screaming fans.

Leto proves that we have a responsibility to remake ourselves as we grow and as the world changes. To allow ourselves the freedom to change as we discover. To evaluate new opportunities as they present themselves. And to consider our evolving intellectual and experiential assets, always willing to change direction based on what we’ve learned. Even if that means circling back to something we haven’t done in years.

There’s a fantastic passage in The Artist’s Way about very idea, about remaking ourselves every few years in order to pursue something exciting and new:

“In order to grow as artists, we must be willing to risk. We must try to do something more and larger than what we have done before. We cannot continue indefinitely to replicate the successes of our past. Great careers are characterized by great risks. It takes courage to jettison the mantle of what we have done well for the chance to grab at the cape of what we might do even better. We cannot play it safe and expand as artists at the same time. We must risk expanding our territory.”

So that’s another path.

But what about this one?

A career, after all, is the feedback about the self that comes in response to the work. And sometimes that means gaining clarity around what’s not for us.

During a recent public radio interview, Jerry Seinfeld was asked if he ever considered a movie career, to which he replied, “What I do is the only thing that makes sense to me. I’m a standup comedian, and that’s what I call myself. As for acting, I don’t think the world needs me to do that.”

I like a man who knows who he is.

Which doesn’t mean Jerry’s not exploring new ways of being an artist, he simply doesn’t see another corridor for himself right now. And you have to respect that kind of artistic boundary.

So that’s another path.

And the good news is, there are a thousand more. And no two are the same. Each one comes replete with its unique set of challenges, rewards, experiences and learnings.

But whatever path you choose––or perhaps whatever path chooses you––what matters most is that you make use of everything you are.

The way I see it, as long as you’re going to spend you life weaving a story about yourself, you may as well blow the ceiling off of anything resembling a limitation.

Be like the mighty buffalo.

Leave no asset unharvested.