“Be happy in what you do” is a basic maxim of success. I agree completely. But I’ve learned there are two ways to find that happiness.
When I began my career, I felt I was very fortunate to have found a company in which I really enjoyed working. After 17 straight years of formal education, I would be entering the job market in the depths of the 1971 recession with my newly-minted Cornell MBA degree. There I was, in the Spring of 1971 at the ripe old age of 22, interviewing for jobs. My honors advisor, Prof. Joe Thomas (now Dean of the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University), noted that I was smart and that was a competitive advantage; I should talk to consulting firms, since they look for smart people. After interviewing with the few consulting firms that recruited at Cornell that year, I took the offer of Arthur Andersen & Co. to join their management consulting practice in their NYC office.
Andersen’s recruiting process sold me. I would be working with other young professionals, consulting on the data processing needs of our clients. My mother had been a pioneer in computer systems, having implemented the first international airlines reservations system in the world for Pan American Airways. I had grown up with computers and enjoyed my computer courses at Michigan. I had worked for IBM in my summer between MBA years, and wrote my honors thesis using computer modeling for complex inventory control questions. AA&Co. would train me in the firm’s methodology and other things I’d need to become a successful consultant – they were paying me to learn! I’d work in the Rockefeller Center area of NYC, with my periodic expense account lunches, when not working with broad variety of clients around the world. What a glamorous career! The partners in the firm explained that their job was to help develop the next generation of partners. If I worked diligently, after 10 years or so I might be admitted to the partnership. Everyone was truly supportive. I was really comfortable with my choice of firm and career. I had found a wonderful match and was very happy – and my career progressed as I expected. I was really fortunate to have found an environment in which I was very happy.
After a few years working, I learned an important lesson from one of my mentors. His name was Paul Tom. Paul had started his career with IBM in Texas and then Washington, DC. He took his position as a manager in AA&Co. in NYC and later became a partner. Paul was a wonderfully personable guy who took seriously the task of developing his staff charges. Early on, I was with several other young staff invited to Paul’s bachelor pad apartment, high above Lincoln Center on West 65th Street. Paul waxed poetic about how wonderful it was to live in NYC: The most exciting place in the world to live. Later, Paul transfered to the Stamford, CT office and bought a suburban home in Connecticut. Again, at a social function he hosted in his new home, Paul extolled the virtues of living in suburban Connecticut, with his idyllic home on the Rippowam River. There was no better place to live on Earth. Several years later, Paul transferred to the Toronto office. I visited him in his suburban penthouse apartment with a beautiful view of Toronto in the distance. Again, Paul noted his delight in getting out of the NYC rat race and the wonderful life and clients he had in Toronto.
By then, I had learned my “Paul Tom lesson in happiness.” You can be lucky to find the perfect job and location in which you’ll be happy (my 1st lesson). But you can also decide to be happy in any job and location in which you find yourself (the 2nd lesson, from Paul).
I have shared these two lessons in happiness with all my staff and colleagues at Andersen and subsequent endeavors. One of my staff told me the 2nd lesson – be happy in whatever you find yourself doing – was something he had learned earlier when he participated in “est” sessions with his siblings and parents. After quickly calming my concerns about est’s cult-like reputation, he noted that est put my 2nd lesson very simply: “Happiness is a choice.”
So it’s pretty simple. I’ve learned I might as well be happy, since I can choose to be so instead of choosing not to be happy. Why choose anything else?