Keep Two Lists: What Gets You Up in the Morning? What Keeps You Up at Night?
As I’m gearing up to teach my next college course, thinking about how to best help my students be successful, I picked up Alan Webber’s “Rules of Thumb” while sorting through stacks of papers in my room. Webber delivers yet another wonderful story, this time about what energizes you about work.
Webber, as you recall in an earlier post I wrote called Failure is Failing to Try, is the co-founder of Fast Company magazine. About 18 months into Fast Company’s young existence as a magazine, the topic of business was cool again. With the new economy featured prominently in the news, the explosion of the Internet and technology, and the emergence of innovation, Webber observes…
“All of a sudden America had a new attitude toward work: work didn’t have to be drudgery. The work you did could make a difference, make you rich, make a dent in the universe” (p. 111).
Webber noticed that people “were genuinely excited about the things going on in their workplaces” (p. 111). “Work” became the subject of many conversations. And it didn’t matter what line of work people were in or when or where, talks about work would come up.
For Webber, the question was more than just “what are you working on,” it should be, “What gave them a jolt of purpose in the morning? What was waiting for them at work that got them excited?”
It was in thinking about this that Webber refined his question to:
“What Gets You Up in the Morning?”
Fast Company took great pride in their interviews with thought leaders and innovative executives and noticed that when they read interviews with top executives in other business magazines, the interviews “almost always were puff pieces; the whole point seemed to be to give the executive a platform for broadcasting the company line” (Webber, 2009, p. 112).
Wanting to set itself apart, Fast Company instead began its interviews by asking executives:
“What Keeps You Up at Night?” (the counterquestion to “What Gets You Up in the Morning?”)
It was a way for Fast Company to stand apart from the rest of the pack, but more importantly it was a way to solicit authentic answers from these executives. This counterquestion “became a Fast Company signature question” (p. 112).
“Some people just have jobs. Others have something they really work at. Some people are just occupied. Others have something that preoccupies them” (p. 113).
As I’ve written in the “About this Site,” we spend 8 to 9 hours a day, 5 days a week working. When you add it up, we spend one-third of our day or half of our waking hours at work. If you work 40 hours a week for 47 weeks out of the year (taking 5 weeks off for various vacation, holiday and sick days), that would add up to 1,880 hours a year. And if you work from the age of 23 to 63 or 40 years, you will have spent 75,200 hours of your life working!
The idea is not to quit work, but to honestly answer the question:
“What Gets You Up in the Morning?”
Webber advises that if the answer to this question doesn’t jolt you out of bed in the morning and give you a sense of purpose and direction then the next question to ask yourself is:
“What are you going to do about it?”
“[W]hatever your answers are, you’re spending almost two thousand hours a year of your life doing it. That makes it worthwhile to come up with answers you can not only live with but also live for” (Webber, 2009, p. 115).
Webber, A. M. (2009). Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self. New York: HarperCollins.