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It’s All Good

“You have to stay in shape. My grandmother started walking 5 miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 today, and we don’t know where the hell she is.” — Ellen DeGeneres, comedienne

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“You have to stay in shape. My grandmother started walking 5 miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 today, and we don’t know where the hell she is.” — Ellen DeGeneres, comedienne

“All I need is my cup of coffee and some friends to spin with,” says Mike Gallagher, our 30-year-old leader, at the start of another spinning class. As always, it’s a blast. Sitting on a stationary bike, making believe you are going up and down hills to the beat of Gallagher’s music, you actually have fun while your hamstrings beg for mercy. Because Gallagher teaches spinning not just for a good workout, but because he loves biking and wants others to feel that joy too.

Gallagher is no command-and-control drill sergeant — a style typical of most spinning and aerobics instructors I’ve met. With his long hair bouncing to the beat, he doesn’t bark commands or threaten embarrassment atop his bike. Instead, Gallagher beams with the joy of biking: “Stay in the saddle, come to a standing position, move into third position, whatever you like. Remember, it’s all good.”

Whatever he does, Gallagher exudes passion, energy, and a positive attitude. “Every day is a good day” for Gallagher, regardless of the fact that his life has not turned out the way he imagined it would when he was growing up in Bartlett, New Hampshire. At least, not yet.

“I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific.” — Lily Tomlin, actress

Gallagher began playing the drums before he turned 3. At 10, he started his first band. At 23, he formed a band called Insult and subsequently toured the United States twice, performed in Asia, and scored an independent-record contract. But last year, the band decided it wasn’t fun anymore. So now, Gallagher is without his beloved music but not without hope.

Actually, Gallagher’s first love is the mountains — climbing them, biking them, and fantasizing about them. And it shows. His spinning classes are less like exercise classes and more like biking expeditions. “Climbing mountains, listening to or playing music, biking your heart out — what more could you want in life?” is Gallagher’s philosophy. But his work remains indoors.

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Working at the Wellesley Center outside Boston, Gallagher’s not climbing mountains or touring the world’s arenas, but he never complains. He remains joyous — a rare accomplishment at our well-to-do club, where many members complain as easily as they breathe.

“We’re lost, but we are making good time.” — Yogi Berra, baseball great

Few of us can say that our career paths are “all good.” Gallagher has stumbled and suffered too. He just doesn’t let it get him down. As Alan Webber, founding editor of Fast Company once told me, “If it’s not fun, don’t do it. Time to get another job.” That said, here are three directives for building your brand or relaunching your career in the name of fun and fulfillment.

Do work that matters: If the bastards get you down, find a new line of work.

“If they want to put in the consent decree that I’m going to give away 95% of my wealth, I’d be glad to sign that. I do this job because it’s a fun job. ” — Bill Gates

Each time I speak, someone asks me hard questions like these:

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  • How do you deal with underfunding and inefficiency in nonprofits? Is it worth working for a nonprofit if you can’t be assured a healthy stream of funding and good management?
  • Don’t you find that being an ‘social entrepreneur’ is really taxing and somewhat scary at times? Aren’t there days when you feel like you have had enough problems?
  • When you consult for large companies, don’t you get frustrated by the politics? How can I think about a career in a large company without having to deal with the politics?

My answer to each of them is the same: Love what you do. No matter what you do, many days will stink. But when your work allows you to become the person you want to become, you can deal with it. You have to deal with it because you have no alternative. The thrill of success comes to those who don’t get fed up.

Make the worst case your best case: If you are unattached to the outcome, you will always succeed at some level.

“Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself.” — Viktor Frankl, Auschwitz survivor

When I write, I lose all track of time. I feel as if I’m in another world. I don’t know if my words will merit any substantial market acceptance. But I do know that time spent writing is time well spent. Though I can’t control the outcome, I can control the joy of the effort.

Nick Gleason, CEO of 3-year-old CitySoft, offers this definition of “success” at his $2 million Web-services firm: “Each day I deal with problems like quality control, personnel, and payroll. It’s exhausting. But no matter how bad it gets, I know that we are doing something really important. We are hiring people who have not had access to technology or good jobs. For us, it’s an untapped labor pool. For them, it’s a chance to join a high-wage economy. Together, we can shatter prejudices and stereotypes about who can participate productively in the new economy. Whatever happens to CitySoft, in our minds we will always be a success.”

Believe: If you don’t, no one else will.

“No amount of money will induce someone to lay down their life, but they will gladly do so for a bit of yellow ribbon.” — Napoléon Bonaparte

A few months ago, a senior executive, one of the five most important people in a multibillion-dollar global company, attributed a major sales problem to her waning faith in how the company was conducting business.

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In front of a dozen other company presidents, she bravely explained her revelation: “I have been waking up for 17 years believing in what we are doing. When I believe, I can rally everyone else to work together as one team dedicated to having a great time serving our customers. But today, I don’t believe. And unless I believe again, it’s over.”

To some degree, work should be fun. And when you don’t believe, the fun is lost. That executive is now rebuilding the “why” for herself and her group. As she does, more smiles, more joy, and greater sales success accompany the return of her passion.

Mike Gallagher hopes to get out to Colorado this spring and join the mountains. Maybe he’ll teach climbing or mountain biking. Whatever he strives for, Gallagher will make it happen. He’s launched his career and built his brand on fun and passion — two attributes that amplify his unique light.

Passion is catchy. It will take you to places you’d never expect, in ways you’d never imagine. Wherever that is, it doesn’t matter. After all, it’s all good.

“And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.” — Kahlil Gibran, artist

To read more about Alan Webber, see Finding Your Voice. To read the life stories of Alan (Chapter 11) or Nick Gleason (Chapter 10), see my New York Times best-selling book, Making a Life, Making a Living — now also in paperback, e-book, audio cassette, and audio download.

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Copyright © 2001 Dr. Mark S. Albion. All rights reserved.

Read more columns by Mark Albion.

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