As I was cleaning off my outdoor grill after a traditional Labor Day family barbeque, I reflected on why Labor Day was, well, Labor Day. I love living during a time when any answer is just a Google and a click away.
Labor Day has been celebrated on the first Monday in September in the United States since the 1880s. The form for the celebration of Labor Day was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday- a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations," followed by a festival for the workers and their families. This became the pattern for Labor Day celebrations.
Okay, simple enough- a celebration of workers. Although the trade and labor organizations have morphed over the years, we are all workers. Whether we clock in and out, manage a team, run a business or invest in many businesses- they are all forms of work.
The Depression era yielded a generation who had a black and white view of work- work until you are 62 years old, then retire. There was no grey.
Many of today's workers search for careers they are passionate about. The result: work does not feel like work. They can labor daily and see it as a blessing, a way of expressing their gifts, and yes, of course, a way of earning a living. We each have a need for mastery and meaning- to do something well and to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.
Working in Your Sweet Spot
Most types of sports equipment- a golf club, a tennis racquet, a baseball bat- have a certain spot that, if the ball hits it, will give the player the optimal result. Hitting this sweet spot yields a long drive down the fairway, a swift crosscourt return or home run swing. Every sport has a sweet spot of some type. If you have experienced it, you know when you hit the sweet spot, you barely feel it. The ball goes where you want it to go... even further and faster. Doesn't get any better than that!
Did you know the average person possesses between 500 and 700 different skills and abilities? If we are going to labor daily (and be excited about it) our goal is to find that skill or ability that's right in our sweet spot. When we do, we will be in "the zone" and our work will feel like play.
Which tasks are very easy and natural for me to perform?
Most of us vividly remember the moment we found our professional sweet spot. Others told us we made it look easy, that we really excelled and we looked like we were having a ball. Think of the last time when others made these comments to you. What were you doing? Like finding any sweet spot, it's worth hitting these questions around for awhile and practicing our answers before we can serve up a winner.
Ralph V. Gilles understands this process. He dropped out of college and was spending most of his time- by his own admission- slacking in his parents' basement, eating granola, watching "Dukes of Hazard" reruns and lamenting the sorry state of automobiles being made in America.
Growing up, Gilles was typical of most boys who played with Hot Wheels and Formula 1 model cars. But, as a teenager, he also was extremely talented in sketching vehicles. In fact, his aunt wrote a letter to then Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, saying he should hire her 14-year-old nephew.
A Chrysler executive responded, recommending three design schools. Soon afterward, however, the letter was lost and forgotten. Meanwhile, the car-crazy Gilles completed high school and enrolled in college to study engineering, but dropped out quickly. His reason: "I was in a funk and was really not sure I wanted to be an engineer."
As he continued his granola, "Dukes of Hazard" routine down in the basement, Ralph's older brother, Max, recalled the letter from Chrysler. He remembered that one of the recommended schools was Detroit's College for Creative Studies. Upset to see Ralph wasting his time and talent, Max pushed his brother to apply to the local school although the application deadline was only a week away and would require 10 sketches.
At that point, the whole family became involved, making Ralph coffee so he could complete his sketches, cheering him on and helping wherever they could. By the end of the week, Ralph was covered in pencil lead, but the sketches were complete, so his mother sent the packet to the school by overnight delivery.
Today, Ralph V. Gilles is recognized as the innovator of the Chrysler 300 sedan and the Dodge Magnum Wagon I in addition to being responsible for the 2002 Jeep Liberty, 2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10 and several concept cars. Dubbed as the Chrysler Group's newest darling, Gilles has earned numerous national and international accolades. He has since been promoted to Design Director for Chrysler.
If we consistently misidentify our sweet spot, we will find ourselves stuck in a funk, like Gilles. If we pursue our professional sweet spot, we will be living the sweet life!