Guest Author: Deb Stargardt, Dallas, Texas:
A = x + y + z
“If A is success in life, then A = x + y + z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut.”
Albert Einstein had a formula for success. Clearly, his brilliance wasn’t limited to mathematics and physics. Reading this quote provoked me to delve a little deeper into the three variables of Einstein’s equation.
1. Work – The 50’s brought the rise of corporate America – face time, climbing the ladder, and good old boy networking. Blue and white collars have transitioned to no collar as our 21st century workforce synchronizes to a technologically enriched business environment. We’ve all become so accustomed to sophisticated productivity tools that it is virtually (no pun intended) impossible to imagine life without wireless. Regardless of time or place, if you are thinking as a physicist, work is the transfer of energy. When you put energy into something, you are doing work. Einstein’ formula suggests that exerting energy – intellectual, spiritual, physical – contributes to success. You’ve probably heard the saying, “This can’t be work – I’m having too much fun!” The reality is that fun and work are not mutually exclusive activities. It’s simply a matter of directing your energy toward the right work.
2. Play – Einstein was an accomplished violinist and avid sailor. He had a great sense of humor and love of life. Just as he put tremendous energy into his research and theories, he took time to have fun, reflect and observe. One has to wonder in this competitive world in which we live, if people really understand the importance of play. Peter Gray, PhD, a distinguished research professor of psychology at Boston College opened a series of essays on the theme, “The Value of Play,” by defining the five characteristics of play:
- Play is self-chosen and self-directed.
- Play is activity in which means are more valued than ends.
- Play has structure, or rules, which are not dictated by physical necessity but emanate from the minds of the players.
- Play is imaginative, non-literal, mentally removed in some way from “real” or “serious” life.
- Play involves an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind.
Think about the last time you played. If you’re like many professionals, leisure time is anything but play. Lots of people use paid-time-off to “catch up” on all the other work they can’t find time to do. Ryan and Diane, a young working couple with two young children, tell this story of their rediscovery of playtime:
“We were spending all of our “free” time running the kids around to soccer practice, piano lessons and school functions. One day Diane came home with an ad she had pulled from the bulletin board at work. It was announcing a dance class at the local community center. “What do you think?” she asked Ryan, to which he replied, “Sure – why not?” The very next night, Ryan and Diane hired a sitter and went to the dance class together. Arriving home later that evening, Ryan remarked, “I know I’ll be sore tomorrow, but tonight, I feel great!”
3. Keeping your mouth shut – This variable, in my opinion, is the most impactful of all. Voltaire said, “When you listen, you have power. When you talk, you give it away.” How can we increase our power or influence by making sure we listen more than we talk? Dr. Stephen Boyd, Professor of Speech Communication at Northern Kentucky University offers these ideas on encouraging the other person to talk so you will listen:
Begin by asking the person’s name. Not only will this make you a listener first, but it will also set up a pattern for listening more and talking less. When people give you their names, often you will get added information, such as where they are from or what they do. Make sure you get the name. Ask the person to repeat the name if you are unclear about it, or make some comment about the name that allows you to repeat it in order to keep it firmly in mind.
Follow any short comment you make after getting the name by asking an open question. Usually these questions begin with “What,” “How,” or “Why.” If you are uncertain about what question to ask, you can connect the question to why both of you are at the same gathering. You could say, “What programs have you found most useful at the conference?” or “How do you like the convention/hotel/town/movie/performance?” Make a short comment when he or she finishes answering the question to avoid sounding like you are conducting an interrogation.
Another way to encourage the other person to talk is to make an assertion and then pause. This will encourage the person to comment on your statement. You might say, “The meeting gave me new ideas about our program.” Often, he or she will then add a comment to yours.
You can encourage the other person to talk by your nonverbal reaction. Nod your head, smile, keep an open posture, and look as though you anticipate that the other person will add more information. When you make a comment such as “Oh,” or “I see,” say the words with an upward inflection to sound encouraging and positive, rather than a downward inflection which would imply finality.
Keep your own spoken contributions short when possible. Avoid telling a five-minute story or giving a three-minute opinion. Talk in 30-second—not three-minute— segments. When it seems natural, end your comment by asking a question. Thus the other person will stay engaged and continue to provide you with information.
Putting it all together, success requires that we be energetic, creative and receptive to the world around us. The “x” is channeling energy into our jobs, professions, chores, tasks, obligations, responsibilities and relationships. The “y” is allowing our imagination and creativity to take us to a place that renews our mind, body and soul. The “z” is retaining our power in interpersonal communications by listening more and talking less.
Not many of Einstein’s theories are as easy to figure out as this one. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or genius to apply this formula for success. It does, however, take persistence and a commitment to personal growth and development.
Publisher’s note: Deb Stargardt is a leadership development professional in Dallas, Texas. She has served a number of organizations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, including VHA and Parkland Hospital. She has also served other organizations throughout the state of Texas.