Work and happiness are intrinsically linked. Making happiness the central goal of one’s life, and business, can change everything.
In this episode, Jason and Jordan discuss how personal and professional growth is essential for long-term fulfillment. They also explore how most learning and development programs offered by employers fail to address the individual needs of employees and don’t satisfy this greater need for fulfillment.
Having a clear understanding of what one is aiming for is crucial to achieving long-term success and happiness. Jason and Jordan explore meaningful ways to help people grow, both personally and professionally, and how companies can provide mentorship, training programs, and career advancement opportunities to support their employees.
Leaders must be willing to lead by example. By setting clear expectations and modeling desired behaviors, employers can foster a culture of growth and development.
Key ideas and highlights
- Aspiring towards something provides meaning and purpose.
- Developing your people goes beyond the job description and workplace.
- Leaders need to be willing to go first and set goals for themselves and for their people.
We have to help our employees figure out who they are, what they believe in, and set a true north in life that they can pursue. And if that pursuit takes them away from us, so be it, because our goal as employers should be human flourishing. — Jordan
Word of the day
Symbiosis — 15:31 ✅
- 0:00 Intro
- 6:30 Why coasting in life doesn’t lead to satisfaction
- 11:30 What most learning & development programs get wrong
- 15:50 Discovering what your goals and where you’re aiming
- 17:30 How to help your people grow
- 20:53 How can companies help support their people in their goals
- 23:10 Why leaders need to lead by example
- 24:30 Are crazy audacious goals worth it?
- 28:30 Making happiness the central goal will change everything
How many hours and years of our lives do we spend on work? For nearly all of us, we spend 30 plus years and one third of our days in our vocation. More time perhaps, than we spend at rest or at play. But this isn’t a problem. Why? Because work is good. Work needs to be integrated deeply into our lives and must be in line with our most important goals and values. And if it is, we have a far more complete and fulfilling life experience. Welcome to How People Work, podcast, where we explore the intersection of how humans think and act and how they apply themselves to their work. When you understand both of these things, you’ll be equipped to be insightful, compassionate, and compelling leaders.
Welcome back to How People Work. Again, this is Jordan Peace. I’m here with Jason Murray. Say hello, Jason.
You should have said hello, Jason. That would’ve been ironic. It’s sarcastic, which would’ve been, you know, kinda you. We were talking about happiness last week. And we got halfway-ish through that conversation. Who knows? It could be a three parter. We’re planning on doing a two-parter. We’re going to continue this conversation on happiness. Last week we talked in particular about this MIT study that was done on 1 million — 1 million US soldiers. And just how impactful happiness is compared to any other sort of demographic truth about a person in terms of their likelihood to be a high performer,-to receive some of these merit-based awards. And then we were getting into not only just defining happiness for ourselves, but more importantly that value hierarchy and this idea of like, what are we after in life?
What is the goal in life? And at the very end of the episode, you were sharing some of your own personal goals, which I really knew some of these things, but obviously it’s always enjoyable to hear a personal perspective on the podcast. And you’re talking about why a lake house, and it’s not because you used to be a financial advisor and that a house is an appreciating asset and a lake is on the water, and they’re never going to make a whole lot more waterfront property, and therefore the value goes, it wasn’t a financial thing for you. It’s much more about the memories, much more about that, the memories that you’ll make and what you expect to feel and experience in this place. And so that’s kind of where we were, just to bring everybody back to the discussion.
Well, and I think it’d be great actually, in the same way that we kick the last one off with that MIT study, kind of lay this one out a little bit with some other research kind of around the whole idea of goals and how they relate to this notion of happiness and how we find that, or how we facilitate that maybe more systematically in our lives. And so there are a number of studies, but a couple that, again, we’ll put in the show notes for the episode here, really point to the fact that happiness, or how we experience happiness is really a self-reinforcing cycle. And so what I mean by that is when researchers have looked at this stuff, what they found is that the moments or the ways in which we really experience happiness or that sort of self — sense of wellbeing is when we’re making progress on goals. And that progress on goals is what leads to that sense of feeling happier and more satisfied with life. And then those positive emotions that we feel as a result of sensing that we’re making progress on those goals, facilitate the intrinsic motivation that actually drives further goal-directed behaviors that are necessary for that goal progress and attainment. So it’s kind of this really virtuous self-perpetuating cycle that you see. And -
Yeah, it’s funny, I don’t mean to interrupt you. I was thinking today. I was having a conversation over lunch about college and a guy that grew up in the same area of Richmond that I did. And we have kind of different families, different backgrounds, but grew up in the same area. And then another guy that grew up in the northern part of the state that’s a little bit wealthier, a little closer to DC, more career-oriented and educated and so forth. And we were talking about why we went to college and it made me reflect on childhood. And then all the way up until the age of 22, I was just following a script. You just do what your parents say. You go to elementary school, you go to middle school, you go to high school, you pick a college because that’s what you’re supposed to do. And apparently that’s going to set you up for life. Having this piece of paper that says that you attended this school and paid way too much money and that’s going to propel you into life. And for me, it wasn’t even until I was maybe 27, 28, that I was like, why am I doing any of this?
I just followed a script. There was no goal. There was no concept of I should have a purpose, I should have something I’m aiming towards. It took a whole lot of years to do that. And we talked about this last week, but that’s because survival is easy for me, which in some ways is a real privilege. In many ways. That’s a real privilege. I don’t want to have to fight or survive every day. That seems terrifying to me to think about that. But at the same time, that means that I have to actually set goals. And that means that I have to be really intrinsically focused on “who am I? What is my purpose? What gifts do I have? What abilities do I have? What can I contribute to the world?” And I got to think a whole lot about more than just I need to raise and cook and eat food and build shelter. And so I think I just wanted to frame that up. Cause we talked about that a little bit last week, there’s a significant difference that’s really easy to forget about this. We’re sitting here in the year 2023. It was not that many years ago that most people woke up in the morning and just thought about, how am I going to put three meals on the table? Right. Or two or one.
And it’s very different. And so if we want to be happy, we have to know what we’re aiming towards.
Well, even in those survival situations, I’d say, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be happy in those
moments, either. But I think it’s -
Actually, in some ways, I think — I hesitate to say this cause I’ve never actually been in that scenario — But in some ways, I don’t want to say easier… It’s simpler. It’s simpler.
Well, it’s clarifying.
Your goal is to stay alive. And when I wake up in the morning and I’m still living, I hit my goal.
You have fewer distractions maybe, right? You don’t have all these things — you have less options. And so as a result, it’s either I’m going to make meaning and purpose out of what I have available to me or I’m just not. Whereas I think life is easier to a degree for us in such a way that, well, maybe I just can kind of coast and it’s fine. I’m not penalized for coasting necessarily.
No, not necessarily. Not necessarily. Yeah.
Well, it doesn’t feel that way in the moment perhaps, but I am penalized by the anxiety and all of these other things that start to manifest themselves as a result of not having that direction and kind of experiencing that dissonance. Because I think you could say to put it in the framework of these value hierarchies that we talked about last time, maybe I am just surviving, but I got to provide these meals. Yeah. Okay. Well why? Why does that matter? Right. Well, because I want to be a good provider. Right. Well, why do I want to be a good provider? Well, maybe I want to do my best to be a good father. Well, why do I want to be a good father? Well, maybe it’s because being a good father is part of being a good person. Well, why do you want to be a good person?
Or maybe it has something to do with my relationship with my dad and he was or wasn’t an awesome provider and I want to be him or not be like him.
Right, and why does that matter to you? Well, it’s like because I have some aspirational desire. Maybe it is being a good person. Right? A lot of people say that, well, why does it matter? Why do you care about being a good person? And it’s not a right or wrong question. It’s just a matter of like, well, if that’s important to you, what’s behind that? And people have all sorts of reasons that they’re going to say, well, here’s why it matters to me to be a good person. Maybe they have some other higher purpose, or maybe that is the thing. They’re just like, well, being a good person is at the top of that hierarchy.
That’s the thing. That’s fine. They can still orient themselves around that now and say, well, in all of these domains of my life, I can take it down to a level of practicality because I say, well, what it means to be a good person, let me start defining that in all of these domains. Okay, I’m a father, I’m a spouse, I’m an employee, like a worker. What does it mean to be a good person as an employee of a company? All of these kinds of things, or citizen in society and so forth. And so now all of a sudden you can take these maybe things that you do day to day that seem trivial or meaningless, and you can actually imbue them with purpose because now all of a sudden those tasks are oriented towards maybe one of those things are hopefully oriented towards one of those things on that value hierarchy. And if it’s not, you should probably ask yourself the question of, should I be doing this? Or why am I doing this? Or do I need to reconsider my values or my goals in relation to the things that I do every day?
Yeah, absolutely. First of all, very impressed with the word imbue used so seamlessly and your soliloquy there. But also, yeah, I mean, just thinking about that and thinking about my own life and where that hierarchy sits, what it looks like, and I described how long it took me to even build one. And you don’t build it once, right? You don’t build it once. Because when I was 25, for example, I didn’t have children. They didn’t exist on the hierarchy of what it is that my purpose in life is. Right? As soon as that little girl was born, and oh gosh, I remember that night like it was yesterday because she had that cord wrapped around her neck twice. And I just freaked out. I don’t think I ever freaked out that much in my life. And the nurse is just like, whoop, just removes the cord. Everything’s fine. First time dad situation. But my life totally changed, and I’m sure whoever’s listening who’s had a child has experienced this emotion of just like, oh my gosh, my life is starkly changed from today forward, and I’ve had four others since then. But the emotion of that very first time was huge. And so you don’t go through this exercise once. You don’t decide what that hierarchy is and what that ultimate aim and purpose in life is one time you have to assess that routinely over the course of time. And we talked about last time a little bit about as employers, we are both employees and employers, and how important it is to facilitate a place where we actually encourage that type of thinking.
That’s personal development, learning and development platforms. And it’s great. Watch a video about risk and why you shouldn’t leave your laptop open and not just one password. Don’t get me wrong, our people need to not do that. But if we’re thinking about employees as human beings and we’re trying to make an impact on them, not just while they are here in this very temperate job and this temperate company that will end at some point probably — before their life does, right? They’re going to have a life well beyond that. And if we’re really about people’s wellbeing and we’re really about pouring into their life and helping them be happy both at work and at home, and persist in that happiness throughout their lifetime, we gotta help ‘em do this stuff. We got to help them figure out who they are, what they believe in, what’s important to them, and set those goals in life and set that true north in life that they can pursue. And if that pursuit takes them away from us, so be it. Right? So be it because it’s about human flourishing.
Yeah, that’s what I was going to say.
That’s why we got into business to begin with. That’s the whole point. Sure. We want to make money. We need to make money so we can pay everybody and so that we can get paid and yeah, sure. Absolutely. Of course, it’s about making money. That’s why a business exists to a large degree. But also if you care about human beings at all, right? You have to look at your employees as people that you’re trying to imbue with this idea of purpose. And some people walk in the door with that. They just happen to be super mature people, or they have a certain community or aspect of their life that kind of facilitates this sort of thing. But I would say experientially most don’t have that. They kind of come in with a notion of, here’s what I’m good at, here’s what I can contribute, here’s who I love, here’s what I’m interested in. Which is a great start. But they probably don’t have a business plan, so to speak, for their life, of just like, here’s my mission, vision, values, so to speak. Here’s what I’m all about. And so I think it would be just really impactful to provide that for people.
Yeah. Well, and I’m glad you brought up the idea again of this human flourishing. Cause I think as I was thinking about this conversation, it feels like a concept that unifies all of the different levels of relationship, if you will. So at the individual level, I can say, Hey, I’m aiming for the flourishing of myself, of my family, of my friends, of et cetera. And at the business level too, you can also say, well, I’m aiming for human flourishing. And so it’s actually not about the money, the money as it means to an end. Because to the degree that a business is successful and produces money for one that is oriented towards human flourishing, it’s likely utilizing those dollars to build an environment that creates flourishing for its people and probably creates something or provides some value to the world that’s contributing to human flourishing. And so all of these things end up converging together around this concept, and I think it’s really compelling.
Would you say there’s a symbiosis between those factors?
Jason (15:32): I would.
That was like a layup. That was just amazing.
It wasn’t intended to just lay it up so beautifully for you.
But No, I appreciate that, man. I appreciate it.
Yeah. I think it’s interesting because again, coming back to some of this research that folks have done, it’s repeatedly demonstrated, and this is research that’s been taking place for decades. So this isn’t like, oh, people stumbled across this in the last couple of years. This has been around for some time, and for some reason it’s just not making its way into the circles that we operate in, maybe in a business context. But it showed that people, when they’re involved in the pursuit of subjectively important personal goals, have higher subjective wellbeing than individuals who lack a sense of goal directness. So I mean, yeah, not to beat a dead horse here, but it just makes sense. It seems really self-evident that if you just wake up and go about your day and don’t have any idea of why you’re doing it, it’s just going to kind of feel blah. But if you actually have some sense of, well, what I’m aiming for, it’s going to give you that meaning and purpose. So not only does it, I think it feels self-evident, really backed up by the science as well. And so I think that then gives us some reason to really press people and encourage people to say, Hey, you really ought to sit down and think about these things. Think about the goals, put some pen to paper and write some things down. And then even for organizations too, to think about, well, how do you design an employee experience in such a way that you give people space or margin to think about these things?
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And instead, I think we’re guilty of this too, of just giving people time or giving people space, flexibility, whatever work when you want, work where you want, that’s great, but without any sort of encouragement or direction towards, Hey, here’s your wellness day once a quarter, which is something that we do of just literally shut down the company, except for really essential customer service and some things that we can’t sacrifice but shut down for a day, once a quarter for a wellness day. But as I’m sitting here thinking about it, we’re not giving any sort of direction. We’re not giving any sort of advice around here’s how we might use that wellness day. And we might call it a happiness day or the pursuit of Happiness day, if you will.
We might want to think about in our own business, just through having this discussion, how can we prompt people towards this end of really identifying that true north and figuring out where they’re going. And what’s interesting is the reason why I’m thinking about that is because I know how satisfying it is to help people with their own goal setting and with their own goal fulfillment. So there’s a communal aspect of this that’s really interesting because you can’t just go, Hey, everybody, set your goals. Figure out your true north and go pursue it. Good luck. See you never. There’s a community aspect of this where we actually both encourage people towards what they’re going towards. We actually help them towards that thing, whether that’s through an introduction or through some sort of upskilling or some way that we help them towards that and they help us. And there’s such deep satisfaction to be had from relationships like that aren’t just this empty, small talk, whatever we drink together, we play together, we watch sports together, we like whatever. That’s great. It’s good stuff. A lot of buddies. But the true friends that you actually know what they want in life, and you are seeing them fulfill it and actually helping them fulfill it, it’s almost like just as satisfying, if not more satisfying, than the fulfillment of the things that you wrote down as your own pursuit of happiness.
Yeah, and we’re built for that kind of community, I think. Yeah. And it’s funny, as you’re describing that, I’m thinking, man, if one of my direct reports came to me and said, Hey, I spent some time thinking about my goals and what’s most important to me, and these are some of the things I came up with, I’d love to talk about. How could I do more things that help me achieve this here at Fringe? I’d say, absolutely. My gosh, oh my gosh, I’d be so excited to have that.
You’d cancel your day. You’d have that conversation in front of the whiteboard. Yeah, you’d be thrilled.
And so, I mean, think how powerful that it would be for people to come to their, and I think that’s part of the question I was asking last time when we were talking about what is the individual’s responsibility. I’m not omniscient. I’m not going to know that about people that I’m working with.
Get out of here. You’re not?
Surprisingly, right? And so we need, individuals need to take responsibility to take some of those steps themselves.
They have to. There’s no dignity in the goal fulfillment if they don’t do at least 80% of the work. Right? I’m not saying, we should fulfill people’s goals for them to clarify, we should aid, we should lift, we should provide opportunities.
Provide opportunities. And so I think that’s the role that companies can play in that, and managers can play in that is like, Hey, if you have that knowledge, if your people bring you some of those kinds of things, cause they’ve done some work, there’s probably a lot of ways that we can take that and say, Hey, you know what? There’s this project over here. Maybe you could jump in and work out on that one a little bit. Or, Hey, turns out this piece of your job, day to day, I had no idea that it was so misaligned with the things that are important to you. But turns out maybe this other person over here actually really loves that stuff. We could probably slide some things around and design the work experience in such a way that we’re aiming again for that human flourishing for everyone.
Yeah. I agree wholeheartedly. I think that when I think about the company side of this, and again, I was just thinking about these kind of quarterly wellness days and how do we facilitate that and all that, but also I think this stuff is a little scary. I think we should acknowledge that. We talk about it as, and cause this is something we do in our lives and oh, I mean, it’s been a little while since my wife and I have done this, but we even will take retreats, she and I together, and we’ll talk about our own, what are our common goals? What are we after as a family and so forth. So when you do that repeatedly and you build that muscle, it’s not that intimidating. But just to acknowledge for a second, this could actually be a little scary of an idea of just like, well, I don’t, what if I do this journey of self-discovery and I don’t actually like the person that I am? I don’t actually the things that I really want?
Or maybe it’s hard for me to dig beneath the surface, beneath the surface, peel back enough onion layers to really see anything worthwhile. And that’s fair. So I think there’s a level of vulnerability required from leaders to go first and to actually say, okay, I’ve done this work. I am on the whole a happy person. And I connect that happiness to the fact that I have clear goals. Now sometimes I’m running towards them, sometimes I’m crawling towards them, sometimes I’m falling backwards and whatever. We all go through our tribulations in life. But I think there’s a need for leaders to lead with that vulnerability and to share at least some of those things that are at or near the top of that values hierarchy to go, this is what I’m about. This is what I’m pursuing. Because that’s what leadership is. It’s not just the directive of “you ought to” It’s” I’ve done it already.”
Yeah, hey, follow me.
Here’s the impact on me. Follow me. So that’s just what I was sitting here thinking about, just doing my own little self-reflection of me as a leader. And I’m like, I think I share a lot about how I’m doing, how I’m feeling, what my life is like. I don’t know that I share enough about what I’m about and what I’m after in life. Why did I start the company to begin with?
Right, y eah.Well, and having the going to be useful, having the courage to think about those things. I mean, I think that’s a great point that you bring up, that it can be scary because you’re thinking about it as I think about it, and I think about the journey that we’ve been on over the last 10 years where we’ve been through some very, very, very lean years. And so you feel almost stupid laying out some of the goals when you think about ‘em because you’re like, I’m never going to achieve this. In fact, all signs point to me having failed miserably at many of these things. So who am I? Why? What’s the point? What is the point of even thinking about goals, having some sort of future orientation? But the minute that you just throw those things to the side…
Nothing. You’re just kind of floating around out there without any direction whatsoever. And that’s what leads to all this dissonance and anxiety and stress. And so I think, again, it’s why it takes courage, but to your point, I think leaders ought to go first. That’s their responsibility to go first in those things and help set that example.
Yeah, I think it is. Shoot, there was something I was going to say, and I totally blanked on what it was while you were, I was listening. I was active listening right there.
I appreciate that.
I think this is a good stopping point for us actually around this topic of happiness. I think though, that as our podcast progresses, one of the things that we’ll probably always talk about: work is good, and this concept of happiness, because it’s so clear in the research, the science, and also just the observational life that we live, that it is the one thing if you’re leading people organizationally, that to target to focus on in the employee experience. And if you can do whatever you can do to facilitate some of this goal setting, clarity of vision, clarity of self, who I am, how I function, how I work, and which I think we actually, organizationally, we typically do better with that part. We typically do better with the who I am, but the who I am, not oriented to any sort of goal or any sort of thing that I want to accomplish, doesn’t even really matter. All I’m going to walk away with is maybe a false sense of pride of some personality trait and then a whole bunch of shame at all the stuff that I’m bad at.
How useful is that without an orientation towards a finished line or where I’m going?
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I want to leave us with an idea if that’s okay before we wrap up. Well, I think this is a really compelling idea that came out of some of this research that I was reading. Cause we’ve been kind of talking about these ideas and the proposition, if you will, that was put forward is that wellbeing can be this causal force inside of companies. And so if you can imagine it in that way -
Are you setting up a part three right now?
Well, I think this is going to be a thread of topics that we continue to discuss. I think that’s more there. There’s then this positive feedback loop that begins to take place because we talked about a couple episodes ago, the relationship between happiness and productivity. And I mean, it’s extreme benefits between happiness and productivity. And so all of a sudden this notion of human flourishing, it just continues to build upon itself. And I think why that’s important is because when it gets into this sphere of business, things become so practical that even as we’re having this conversation, it’s really easy for me to take this stuff that we’re talking about and say, well, at the end of the day, push comes to shove, there’s other stuff that we got to take care of. That’s probably more important than thinking about getting to do the job, the notion of happiness.
And that’s not really the job. And I think the proposition that’s being put forth, and I think seems to be supported by the research is that in actuality, the benefits of people focused on their happiness and wellbeing from the individual level through the community kind of organizational level, all of that is so powerful that it’s not just like, Hey, let’s just wellbeing, happiness. If we get to talking about it, it’s great. You maybe we’ll put together a couple programs just to tamp down the chatter that’s happening, to put fires out, and the employee survey and stuff like that. And it’s always just this afterthought. And I think really to the degree we can bring it into this more central place and think of it as this causal force in companies for good, the good of the company, but also for the good of the world, human flourishing. It could be a really, really powerful thing.
Yeah. I think we have to stop thinking about work is task and personal life is relationship and emotion. Relationship and emotion and task is everywhere. Between us, we have eight children. There’s no shortage of tasks at home. It’s not as if you just go home and it’s just like, well, we’re just sorta. We just hug our way through the last three hours of the day with our family and go to bed. All the tasks happen at work. We kind of get this tough skin on when it comes to work. And it’s all about achievement and it’s all about getting stuff done. And then we pretend like home is something totally different. We’ve talked about this before. Life is life and work is part of it. And I think we need to stop shying away from the emotion. And it doesn’t mean that we go all emotion. It’s just like, well, let’s just sit around and talk about how we feel all day and do nothing. That is not the proposal here. But if people are happy and they’re happy in their job and they feel satisfied and they feel like their leaders are invested in their happiness and invested in their satisfaction, they’re actually more productive. Right? Which is, and that’s not why you do it. That’s not why you help people be happy so that they serve the company better. That is an important factor. Less important than the human flourishing itself. Right. But there’s no reason why you can’t have both. Yeah. They’re not at odds. Yeah. They’re not at odds at all. Yeah. They’re at odds at all. Anyway, thank you so much, everybody. Thank you, Jason, for your time, your vocabulary, your research. I really appreciate it. What was the word again?
I love that. Thank you for listening to how people work. We’ll see you next week.
We got your word of the day.
Oh, my word of, I forget it every time. What?
For next time.
What is my word? You already got one locked and loaded?
All right, go.
Word of the day will be scrupulous.
Scrupulous. I like it. It’s fun to say too. All right, we’ll, we’ll see you next time and we will scrupulously entertain you for -
That doesn’t count.
Yeah, no, it was poorly used, but it doesn’t count. We’ll see you next time on how people work. Bye-Bye.