One approach to savoring our successes is to fashion them into résumé-ready bullet points. After we explore what went well and what lessons were learned, I ask my clients, “How would you incorporate this accomplishment into your résumé?” I’m not asking because I want them to update their résumés. I ask because I want them to see the impact of their effort and where it fits in the scheme of their professional lives. Instead of just celebrating with a drink (also fun and important), we’ve taken the time to put the achievement into perspective. We’ve drawn meaning from it.
In the life of an employee and the life of an organization, these are important matters. I believe in the value of accomplishments, and in building a résumé that highlights the best of them. Yet I don’t believe that a résumé, even a very good one, tells the whole story.In a recent column, The Moral Bucket List, David Brooks wrote of eulogy virtues versus résumé virtues. “The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful,” Brooks writes. A lengthy résumé with important accomplishments is good, but is that how we’ll be remembered? Maybe kindness or generosity are more memorable qualities than any project we brought in on time. I think Brooks is on to something.
I recently attended a memorial service at a local assisted living complex. The ceremony was to honor the lives of several residents who had died in the past few months. Family members, nursing staff, and fellow residents shared stories of what they remember about their loved ones. Because I live in a university town where many residents have lived fascinating lives, there were stories about folks who’ve done brilliant work, written highly acclaimed books, and traveled the world doing it. One such person is Neil.
Neil lived in many places around the globe, from Africa to New Zealand. He took pride in fluently speaking nine languages. When it was time for Neil’s wife, Meg, to speak at the recent memorial, she told a simple story which she said summed up Neil and his life. Here is what she said.The two of them were living in Ningi, a remote village in northeast Nigeria, 38 miles from a paved road, and 125 miles to Kano, where the couple could pick up their mail. Because of this, they grew most of their own food. There was a sole fig tree on the property where they lived. Neil loved figs and couldn’t wait for the figs on this tree to grow and ripen. As the season arrived, only one fig sprouted on the tree. This didn’t deter Neil. Perhaps it made that one fig all the more precious.
Water was in very short supply in the little village. Neil had arranged for a neighbor to draw one bucket of water from his well each day before dawn, a well shared with the only medical clinic in town. When he awoke at 6 am, Neil would boil the water over kerosene burners, then pour it through porcelain candles and an aluminum filter to purify it. Any drinkable water went into jars. Neil would then take the muddy residue which remained in the filter out to the fig tree to water it. Neil performed this same ritual every day, anticipating the great pleasure of one ripe fig on some future day.Each morning after sunrise, Neil would touch the fig. “Not today,” he would say and go on about his work. One day, after touching the fig, Neil said, “Today’s the day.” His efforts had paid off and they would enjoy a ripe fig with dinner.
Later that morning, an unexpected guest, a friend, arrived at their doorstep. No word had gotten through about this arrival in advance, due to the remote nature of their living conditions. Not to worry. Meg secured goat meat from the local butcher’s table and prepared a curry for the noon meal.As the three sat down to eat, Neil remembered the fig. “Oh, one minute,” he said, and left the table. He returned, fig in hand. Without hesitation, Meg remembered, Neil offered the fig to the guest, as if this had been its intended purpose all along. The guest was appreciative and enjoyed the fig in the way we might enjoy a fig we bought at the local grocery store. Neil never mentioned the care that he had provided the fig tree each day, and his wife Meg didn’t either.
“That’s who Neil was,” Meg wisely and lovingly concluded. Of course, the nine languages, the books and countless accomplishments were who Neil was, too. But in the end, it was the story of one ripe fig that captured Neil’s life best.
How can we follow Neil’s lead in living our lives? One way is by going after our dreams, as he certainly did. As we accomplish good things, we can savor and highlight them in a well written résumé. But we should also remember that we are more than our résumés. How we move through our lives is the larger story about us. Carry on with today’s priorities and, like Neil and the story of one ripe fig, find ways to let your most virtuous self shine through as you do.
Brooks, D. (2015, April 11). The moral bucket list. The New York Times.
Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience.. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Gregoire, Carolyn. (2013, November 18). What your ‘life story’ really says about you. The Huffington Post.
King, L. A. (2001). The health benefits of writing about life goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 798-807.
York, S. (2000). Remembering Well: Rituals for Celebrating Life and Mourning Death. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Savor the victory courtesy of GavinZ
Carved eulogy courtesy of SunshinyPuff
One lone fig courtesy of Mr. Greenjeans
Touch the fig courtesy of nesson-marshall
Offered the fig courtesy of mrjorgen