5% Significance: Discovering foundations for resilience

As a follow up to last week’s blog, I offer the following; a column that was published in Oct/Nov (2014) SaskBusiness Magazine.

Thirty-plus years ago, I knew a young man that started a job to provide for his new family. Their needs were basic, and his aspirations uncomplicated. He simply needed to earn an income so that his family could have a roof over their head, heat through the winter, clothing, food (including formula for the baby), and maybe a little extra cash for the occasional special event.

Not too long into his new job, management discovered that he had significant appetite for growth and an ability to get things done. His job duties and responsibilities continued to expand as the accomplishments piled up. The company grew exponentially through his efforts and contributions, and the young man’s confidence grew right along with it. He was gaining a reputation as an over-achiever.

As time went on, other organizations enticed him to come and work with them. The young man, now thirty years old, accepted one of these positions and worked hard to serve a new organization. He was challenged within a new work environment and struggled to adapt to a new culture, one where politics and “people management” (manipulation) were the norm. However, he continued to grow and excel at whatever he put his hand to.

More organizations came calling as the years went on, each providing new opportunity for challenge and growth; each also providing a measure of meaning and a hint of personal significance — subtle, even sub-conscious. Whenever I would ask him if he was deriving his personal worth from his work, he would assure me that this was not the case; that he knew that work was simply about his doings, and that his life meaning and personal value came from his being; a place of greater substance than his work. I reminded him of a statistic that I had heard many years ago, of how 80% of what we do a monkey can be trained to do, and that 15% of what we do can be done by others through appropriate training and experience — the remaining 5% can only be done by our self, so we must be careful to ensure that this 5% is prioritized. This 5% shows up in personal care and the relationships closest to him; only he could be husband to his wife, and father to his children. Once again he assured me that he understood.

Recently, I spent some time of reflection with this young man, now in his forties. He noted that he has been in an extended season of reflection. He recalled many of his accomplishments, and noted that he held no regrets. Having said this, he was also looking forward in an effort to establish a new vision for the remainder of his working life. This had proved more difficult than what he had expected, especially given that so much of his past had been filled with work that had been inspired through clear vision. As he scanned the horizon for meaning and significance he recalled the message of the 5%, in the past week, as he noted a connection between significance and a key relationship.

His daughter was turning thirty, and had just celebrated her 2nd wedding anniversary. As a surprise to his daughter, he had written a song for her and performed it at her wedding. “Bright eyes and endless smiles, since the day she first looked up at me…there’s a tear near to a man, holding such frailty…” – On My Arm was a song that spoke to the transition of a daughter’s reliance on her father, from infant to bride. In the week past, as a gift for his daughter’s 30th birthday, he had worked the song into a video, and in the process of going through photo albums to gather images he had been deeply moved.

The trail began with images of an infectiously giggling baby, and journeyed through the stages of toddler (spaghetti bowl upside-down head), early years (birthdays, camping, silly games), teen (graduations, cheering for the Riders and playing sports with family) and ultimately the day where he had walked her down the isle, on his arm.

To say that these images moved him would be an understatement. As he had been searching for vision for his future, one where he could feel enough significance and meaning that could provide foundations of resilience to continue to grow and adapt through each future challenge, he was finding it in his 5%. He had been a significant part of the life and growth of another, simply by walking with her and letting her lean on his arm a little while.

Nothing achieved through his career provided the same depth of meaning as he had experienced through this single 5% relationship. I know that this is truly what he sees, for that young man was me.