Mean No More0
By Frank J. Rich
Few of us would accept that we are average, even though in polite company we might incline the lesser state. The linguistic artifice costs us little. But less is no achievement for most, so when our “roles” performance is at issue—worker, parent, friend, sibling—“average” is anything but how we wish to be seen. In fact, our tender psyche relies so heavily on the Self-Image—how we think others think we see ourselves—that less in the eyes of others often brings out the defensive in us.
Here, we are not talking about the “meaning” in the turn-of-phrase that ends in “s,” as in living beyond your means. That is mere “Kentucky Windage” in the aim to consider the “pitch” in our approach to the workplace and its essential role in performance improvement. Here, pitch is defined as the level of intensity, or the highness or lowness of something. In this vein, “mean,” the measure of value in a set or collection of elements classed together, is manifest in how we dispatch ourselves in the workplace. Simply, we are propelled in a sense, by the heart, mind, body, and soul in our work, and by this “set” of elements form the model of achievement that is uniquely ours.
The heart in our effort is more commonly our attitude, that element of intangible behavior that either tilts us forward or holds us back. We are most often considered for our skills, even evaluated for advancement based on “what” we can do. But what we know compared to what we do not know is so wide a gap that the measure of the latter surrounds us. Skills matter, but attitude—good and bad—is the primary reason for performance success. We might tolerate a poor attitude in some, in favor of unusual skills in them, but we seldom choose to align ourselves with them. Given the choice between the dour and the dirigible that floats on air, we seek the latter.
The mind in the holistic view is the element that enables a person to be aware of the world and his experiences, to think, and to feel, the faculty of consciousness and thought. When used more fully it goes beyond the mere intellect that facilitates learning. It is a rainbow spectrum of awareness that can manage both the simplest of things and the complex as easily. It is less the “shift register” in a computer that stores data for rationalizing at each clock cycle; it is rather the determiner of all function, the thinking and doing planner that causes things to happen.
The body is the bidder of all things. It is the toolbox at our disposal. We conceive an action in the mind, prepare our emotional and mental state in the heart, and set the body to work. It moves us from place to place, drives the car. It picks and places things, and even works to recondition itself for those who put it to exercise. It can take the form of love or war, revealing passion and vehemence. Without the “body” we might only think and feel, but never touch, taste, hear, or see color.
The soul in the context of the workplace is the purpose in our effort, as tied to our identity. We may think our purpose in words and images and craft our identity in some measure of performance, but combined they present the meaning in what we do. The soul in our work drives us to fulfillment, that highest of needs that is the end in all endeavors. Our contributions are made ready by heart, mind, and body, but it is the soul in our work that uniquely qualifies us.
If I have your attention after this brief journey through the “looking glass” may I ask you the question above? Are you working “beyond your mean”? And, if not, why not?
The workplace is assumedly competitive, even more so today. How then might one distinguish himself among eager others? It may be that we only do what we know how to do. The sound of it is a death knell to achievement. Clearly, we must go beyond our “mean,” that average performance that makes lemmings of us too easily. But without the collective movement of our faculties we are fated to crawl while others dance. Somehow, we must find it in ourselves to go beyond our education, where in the words of Albert Einstein “learning begins.”
The heart, mind, body, and soul may be a good place to start. It slows the spirit and concentrates our efforts on real work, progress. In the end, we’ll have avoided Alice’s dilemma, having moved so fast only to find ourselves in the same place.