“So, where do you see yourself going in the company?”
“Um, I’m not sure. I like chemistry so staff. Maybe supervisor one day.”
“Don’t aim low. You could be the CEO if you want.”
Master of the Universe
As Americans, we’re taught that we’re individualistic masters of the universe. We alone are responsible for building ourselves and our future. We alone lived and learned and built our personalities. We alone worked hard and brought ourselves up by our bootstraps and are solely deserving of what we have.
I don’t really believe any of that. I believe I won a lottery to be born into my world. That my personality and success are an amalgamation of all the people I’ve lived around and learned from. That even if I do believe there’s some special spark of “self” all my own, I owe a debt to everyone who came before and helped me along the way. And, since this is true, I’m forever obliged to return these people their investment of energy, knowledge, and passion.
But how much? How much do I have to give back?
Living With Purpose
That sounds like a snarky, pretentious question. Let me explain.
I enjoy my job. My company was founded on the premise of “Energy, Environment, and Economic Development”. To create a better life for the people of the region by providing energy and jobs to raise them from poverty, all while preserving the beautiful diversity of our mountain home. We haven’t always done a perfect job, but I believe in the mission as more than just a corporate mantra. Creating better lives for people and protecting the environment is what I want to do on that deep level of purpose millennials are (sometimes spitefully) said to hold.
But, I also want to live the life I want. I want to garden and read and write. To spend time with those I love wandering the wilderness or exploring high end cocktail bars. To, on occasion, waste away an afternoon playing cards at a brewery if the mood strikes me.
Right now, I enjoy the balance I’ve struck. I work, and I have time to play. And yet, more is being asked of me.
On Not Wanting It All
I’ve seen the memes of woe -“In my formative years I was praised and thought I’d be great! Now I hear nothing! I haven’t done anything so I think I’m nothing.” I’ve always thought I’d be there. That I’d take the steps to enter the bigger pond and be swallowed. But I haven”t. Now I have dinners with my executives and hear “You’re something special. We’re going to watch you.”
I wonder what it is they see. Their own desire for someone to take over so they don’t have to? That female corporate executives are en vogue and could help them get good PR? That blond WASPy corporate executives are probably the best option if they must promote females? That millennial are sensitive and need praise? And very far down on the list, maybe I actually have some talent for it?
It’s easy to know the answer I want to give. “No.” No, I don’t want to move up the chain and become a CEO. No, I don’t want the entitled positions to feel powerful and accomplished. No, I don’t want the additional responsibility and slaved hours that will, admittedly, make me very wealthy, but remove me from the rest of my life. I’d like to sit on my porch and read a book thank you.
But what if I should? What if, because of what I’ve been given, I have an obligation to?
Obligation to become wealthy? Eye roll. Obligation to make someone’s life better because I can. Because I should.
To Whom Much is Given, Much is Required
This is a conversation that comes from privilege. I know I have privilege, am privileged, to even be worrying about this. And because I know of the mess we’re in, I know I have a responsibility to use that privilege. “Change it from the inside” a quaint platitude with a stroke of truth. Obtain power so I can help the marginalized get it too. Lord knows leaving the status quo in place won’t get us there. I struggle, knowing I’m happy with where I am now, wondering how much of my own happiness I’ll need to give up to help others. Is that acceptable? Is that sustainable?
It won’t help if I lose myself in the process. But maybe, just maybe I can find the balance to do it.
A few weeks ago, I gave a student a tour. Actually, I didn’t even give her a tour. Her professor said she couldn’t make for the tour, but she’d love to work with us and he promised he’d ask. I lost his business card, so I scoured the university’s website to find his email. We played email tag, and I briefly corresponded with the girl, telling her to get on LinkedIn, start following all of these specific HR people for updates. Nothing special, just a push in the right direction. And weeks later, saw her update her job on the website. Not a lot, just a push to get someone where they want. The spark of delight I felt when I saw? I can keep searching for that.