This I Believe

Is there a conviction you can’t imagine giving up because it’s so central to who you are? Which core values do you feel most passionate about? If you won the Powerball lottery tomorrow and no longer had to work for a living, what would you do with your time?

When I’m working with people who feel stale or stuck in their careers, exploring the answers to questions like these helps us unearth important clues about what might be missing from their day-to-day lives. If deep digging is required, writing can be a particularly powerful excavating tool. One of my favorite exercises to assign is a This I Believe essay. Taking the time to identify and commit to a guiding belief – on paper, in fewer than 500 words – can be a great way to dislodge elusive ideas or elaborate on more robust ones.

If you’re already familiar with This I Believe, you know the spectrum of personal credos that people choose to hang their hats on is vast. There are, of course, a finite number of themes – but the originality lies in the details, which can be fascinating and, often, inspiring. For example, Albert Einstein, who penned an essay that he read on-air in the 1950’s, when the project first began, wrote about the need to revive the ideal of public service, which he felt had been dangerously eclipsed by the individual pursuit of private gain. (An evergreen problem, clearly.) One of my personal favorites, which I recently learned is among the top-ten most viewed submissions of all time, is about treating people with thankless jobs well. That essay begins, “If I have one operating philosophy about life, it is this: Be cool to the pizza delivery dude; it’s good luck.”

One of my clients, an accomplished writer and reporter with an advanced degree in food studies, wrote her This I Believe essay about the power of a good meal to create a sense of community. She described how, as a new mother working from home, she had dealt with her feelings of isolation by cooking, at first on a small scale for her family, and then for others. Her invitations were reciprocated, and eventually led to the formation of several close friendships. By acting on a deeply-held belief shaped by her childhood experiences – that food brings people together – she effectively cooked her way into a strong, vibrant circle of her own. It’s a beautiful piece and you can read it here.

In the process of reflecting on and talking about some of the themes that surfaced in her essay, Jean recognized that food was more than just a personal and academic passion for her. It was something she also had strong convictions about, particularly the inter-relationship between cooking, family and culture. After deciding that she wanted to focus on these topics in a more deliberate way, she began looking around for professional opportunities that would allow her to do that. In fairly short order, by tapping into her existing network, she was able to land a leadership role on a creative agency team that was working with a large national retailer to roll out a new line of healthy, quick and affordable meals for families. As a starting point on her journey, the experience was valuable in affirming Jean’s belief that moving food to the front burner was both a doable and satisfying career move.

In writing this post, I realized that – having been exclusively on the delegating end of this exercise – it’s time for me to pen a This I Believe essay of my own. So watch this space over the next few weeks for my submission! What about you? Will you take the This I Believe challenge? Who knows what you might learn about yourself?

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