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Bartholomew, chief technology officer for a midsize software company, stared at his speech for the upcoming company meeting.

What was supposed to be his speech for the upcoming company meeting, at least.

All he had so far was a whole lot of nothing.

Which is what he felt his career had become: a whole lot of no meaning.

How could he inspire the company when he couldn’t even inspire himself?

“This isn’t working,” he muttered to himself. “Time for something completely different.”

He grabbed his tablet and went for a wander.

Put yourself first

The first person he encountered, naturally enough, was his assistant, Mark. Who took one look at Bartholomew’s face and grimaced.

“Speech not going so well?” Mark asked.

“Not well at all. I’ve lost track of why I’m doing this job. So, I don’t have any idea how to encourage everyone else to keep doing theirs.”

“What’s important to you about leading this company?”

“Supporting everyone, so they can fill themselves with whatever brings them joy.”

“Who is ‘everyone’ to you?”

“All of you. Our employees. I know some of you are here just to get a paycheck. My dream, however, is that that paycheck enables you to pursue your dreams.”

“Anyone else?”

“Well…our customers, too. They’re so vocal about the difference we make in their lives. I want to do everything I can to keep that up.”

“Anyone else?”

“Not that I can think of.”

“Not even yourself?”

Bartholomew stared at Mark, dumbstruck. Then, Bartholomew smacked himself on his forehead. “You’re right. I’ve completely forgotten to take care of myself. No wonder I’m feeling so uninspired.”

“Wherever we go, there we are. Yet, we so often miss our own presence. We get caught up in everyone else and forget to notice ourselves. One of life’s little mysteries.”

“Right. I’m going for a walk.”

Prioritize progress over perfection

Feeling refreshed from his walk, Bartholomew still didn’t know what to say in his speech. So, he headed for the game room. “Plenty of distractions there.”

Along the way, he stopped in the kitchen to grab a snack. There, he ran into Marty, one of Bartholomew’s directors of engineering. A stellar leader, Marty was possibly even more well-known for their massive head of shaggy hair and their penchant for self-deprecating hair jokes.

Marty theatrically put a finger to their lips and beckoned Bartholomew over.

“What’s going on?” Bartholomew asked Marty.

“Marketing keeps harassing me to decide which features we’ll ship in the next release. They don’t have a preference; they just want a decision. I can’t decide. Everybody I talk with on my team has a different favorite than everyone else. Or they don’t care at all. I don’t know what to choose.”

“Would you like a suggestion?”

“Yes, please.”

“To paraphrase a gem from my mentor, if you don’t know which option to take, any option is as good as any other.”

Marty considered this. “Yes, I guess you’re right. No matter my decision, there’s a better than even chance that, a month from now, Sales will tell me a major deal requires one of the other options. So, it doesn’t really matter which choice I make.” They gave a big sigh of relief.

 “You look like you’re feeling better,” Bartholomew told Marty.

“I am,” Marty confirmed. “Before, I felt harried. Now, I simply feel hairy.”

Bartholomew made a pained face at Marty and hurried off.

Do what you love

Still uncertain what to put in his speech, Bartholomew continued to the game room. There, he found Loranda idly twiddling a handle on the foosball table.

“Up for a game?” she asked as he entered.

“A short one,” he replied, taking position on the other side of the table.

While Loranda typically took foosball as seriously as she took site reliability—which is to say, enormously, today she seemed distracted. Bartholomew even scored the first goal, unheard of against Loranda.

“What’s on your mind?” he asked her.

“A really good job offer,” Loranda replied. “Which I know you don’t want to hear. I don’t even know why I’m considering it. After the first few months, I’d be bored out of my mind. But it’s So. Much. Money.”

Bartholomew tried for another goal, only to have Loranda block, take possession of the ball, and run it down the field to score her own goal.

“I appreciate your honesty,” Bartholomew said. “May I ask you a question?”

“As long as you don’t ask me to play one-handed so you have a chance at winning.”

“Never. I know how sacrosanct foosball is to you. My question is this: would you rather have oodles of money and be bored, or have enough money to survive and be excited?”

“You pay me rather better than that,” she said, as Bartholomew squeaked a pass past her and made a valiant attempt at a goal. Almost there…almost there….

“I’d rather barely survive and be excited,” Loranda decided, as she blithely intercepted Bartholomew’s pass and easily scored a goal. “They would have to pay me a lot more money to be bored. Like, multiple zeros. Even then, it probably wouldn’t be worth it.”

“Glad to hear it,” Bartholomew replied, wondering whether Loranda realized the goal he had just scored.

Be who you are

Bartholomew headed back to his office. Now, he knew the highlights of his speech:

First, put yourself first. Even if that means the feature isn’t going to make the release, and even if that means the live site incident will take longer to resolve. We support that because we know it’s the only way you’ll be here long-term.

Second, prioritize forward progress over perfect decisions. We will never know every constraint on a problem. We can never know what the future will bring. As long as you tell us the decisions you’re making and why, we have your back no matter what.

Third, do what you love. We’re a big enough company that we surely have a way to engage everything that lights you up. We want you full of excitement, not ennui.

“I’m glad I took that walk,” Bartholomew told himself. “Maybe I’ll use my own example in my speech. Show that I have all the same struggles as they do. And, that I’m following my own advice. Or is that being self-indulgent? Well, it’s a starting place.”

He sat down at his desk and started writing his speech.

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