Getting Promoted, Remembering Emerson

A friend of mine recently switched jobs within the same company (sort of a non-linear promotion to a more prominent role in a totally different division). In his new job, where he’s a little youngish looking for the responsibility, he still regularly runs into people who only new him in his old capacity. Anybody who has been through something similar knows it creates some understandable head scratching, especially when you add in the promotion component.

One experience he’s been talking about it is how people are suddenly trying to use him to their own advantage. He’s suddenly got “utility” and that’s a valuable asset. I’ve tried to tell him that such is life when you’re big and important.

Credit to him, his concern is how he can stay “one of the good guys,” and properly seek out and reward others who are genuine and appreciative. That mentality reminded me of this Ralph Waldo Emerson quote which Jeff Bezos (allegedly) reads every day:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

I’ll spare you from me writing it all out, but read that passage again and think of the inverse of each example (I.e. to never laugh; to not get the respect of intelligent people or the affection of children…).

To the people who want to use us to their advantage, they are for whatever reason operating under “the inverse-Emerson.” All inverse-Emerson activities ultimately lead to a “how to not succeed” lesson, or worse, “how to succeed at the expense of others.” It’s cutthroat corporate savagery.

I imagine that the appeal to Bezos is that there are degrees of success and difference making. What the quote drives home, and what any of us can certainly strive for in our own lives, is to look for those minor ways where we can “leave the world a bit better,” care enough to notice, and to always impart some positive impact. Emerson does an excellent job detailing all of these categories out for us.

It’s a daily effort, and therefore requires a daily setting of the mindset. If we’re looking for it within ourselves, we’ll notice it in others too. When we connect with others who are spreading that goodness further, it can be tremendously powerful for both ourselves and our communities. When we notice someone fighting it, we can remind ourselves to find the best in them, but not focus too much energy as the carry-forward impact will likely be limited.

The small positive contributions may not always be noticed, but they compound.