My partner and I boarded the train on our way to Berlin main station. I was on my way home. He was on his way to his next client. He travels a lot for business, unlike desk-jockey me, so before taking my seat I asked him if he had a seat preference. I wanted to know: was he one of those who wanted to always sit facing forward, looking ahead to all that was approaching, or was he one of those who took whatever seat was readily available?
I ride a lot of trains, he said. It doesn’t matter which seat you take, as long as you’ve made sure you’re on the right train.
The right train is an apt metaphor for work motivation. It is the pleasant journey undertaken after a series of correct decisions to reach a desirable destination.
The Wrong Train to the Wrong Destination
There are the occasional missteps, the rush to reach the next destination that means losing sight of a critical detail. The wrong track number. The wrong departure time.
The result? A high-speed ride to a destination you never wanted to reach in the first place.
And what do so many of us do when we learn that we are on the wrong train?
We get angry. And we start up the blame machine. The timetables must have been printed wrong. The track numbers must have been switched. I must have been too reckless/careless/clueless to get it right.
The wrong train to the wrong destination can set you back, for sure. But you are never going to reach the right destination until you get off the wrong train and on to the right one.
A Detour Along the Way
I am not much for regret. Even the most frustrating experiences have taught me valuable lessons in life and work.
The client who always called late on Friday night for a Monday morning project delivery? Well he was always the one who was also late in paying his invoices. I cannot focus too much on that. Instead, I thank him for helping me understand how deadlines can crush the most idealistic notions of time management, a sometimes bitter joke when you’re juggling home, work, and all the players demanding prioritization in both. I thank him, too, for helping me understand that, nevertheless, prioritization is a great tool for determining the kind of clients I should concentrate my energy and time on.
What I mean to say with this example is that while, yes, you could spend your time analyzing all that went wrong with your colleague, your project, or your career, there is still nothing to beat simply using those lessons to help you get on the right train.
The Right Train to the Right Destination
And what does the right train look like? That answer looks different for every worker, but there are some commonalities. Do you believe that you are headed in the right direction? Do you feel that you have everything that you will need for the journey? If you do not have everything that you need at hand are there services along the route that can better equip you? If not available on the journey itself, do you anticipate that the journey is taking you to the next place where you can get what you need? And is the journey itself a pleasant one for you, such that you would confidently recommend it to others?
If you are not sure that you are on the right train, now is a great time to find out. Look around. Ask some questions. Check and double check before you again take your seat.
And share the tale of your journey!