Lisagor: Counting your neighbor’s wealth

Happiness happens when you stop craving recognition and start giving it to others

Have you ever sat by while someone less deserving got a promotion you wanted or was put in charge of a highly visible new project even though everyone knew you worked harder, contributed more and really wanted it?

A Buddhist saying goes something like this: “A poor man spent night and day counting his neighbor’s wealth but gained not even half a coin.”

That expression means it’s difficult not to compare ourselves with others, especially if we judge our self-worth by our job title, our financial earnings or our professional standing.

I recall the emotional angst I experienced in my 20s and 30s waiting for another promotion or a new assignment only to see someone else get rewarded.

Eventually I realized that my inner happiness was too tied to my external circumstances. There would always be a more prestigious position or a bigger office to play with my emotions.

I did some significant self-reflection and attitude adjustment to reduce my attachment to the outer trappings of management. Nothing is inherently wrong with being motivated to get a promotion, more responsibility or a higher salary, but I began to take the less visible but important step of being more supportive of my colleagues.

I also began to focus more on the successful completion of the mission in which I was involved rather than on my own success.

Although my efforts weren’t always recognized, my satisfaction in my work increased immensely. I also discovered that I became less judgmental and that it required less energy to be happy about the good fortune that my fellow managers received.

Unfortunately, not many organizational cultures foster enlightened management behavior. Highly competitive performance rankings and overemphasis on job status can make people feel shortchanged and underappreciated.

But blaming one’s situation on a dysfunctional organization or biased senior managers, even if it might be justified, doesn’t help.

An enlightened manager should try to maintain a balanced perspective between internal and external job satisfaction. Being good is more important than being recognized.

We should extend this behavior to expressing our appreciation to the people who support us. Do they know we value their contributions or have we left them to wallow in jealous misery?

As long as our happiness is circumstantial, we’ll probably continue to count our neighbor’s money. But just because our commercial culture encourages us to always want more doesn’t mean we can’t choose to be happy with what we have.

Lisagor founded Celerity Works in 1999 to help executives accelerate and better manage business growth. He provides his reality-based risk management training to government agencies and is the author of “Business Development Guide for Selling to the Government,” which is available at his Web site, www.celerityworks.com/business-books.html . He lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and can be reached at lisagor@celerityworks.com.

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