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What Gets You Going in the Morning?

October 12, 2010

What gets you going in the morning? Is it vision or is it fear?

Larry Crabb is a prominent psychologist, author, and friend. Based on his observation over years of practice, Larry says we have two basic psychological needs in our lives:

  • The need for security, and
  • The need for significance


My observation is that most of those who are stranded behind desperation and contentment on these two issues live what Thoreau memorialized as “lives of quiet desperation.”

Fortunately those of us who have a robust faith can at least have a deep sense of eternal security. More on that later.

A couple of weeks ago, another author, Richard Simmons, a Halftimer who, after many years as a CEO in Birmingham, formed the Christian-based Center for Executive Leadership, flew in to compare notes on what he is finding out in his work with my experience in the Halftime Institute. Simmons has noted a dramatic shift since the financial collapse of 2008 in men’s motivation from accumulation towards fear. Security needs which seemed so buttoned up in the 80’s and 90’s have come under a cloud of uncertainty. Part I of Simmons’ terrific new book, The True Measure of a Man in the Midst of Economic Hardship begins with a story that personifies his theme:

“Forced to take a buyout from the Kansas City Star last summer

Paul Wenske lost his sense of identity. ‘I’d been an investigative

reporter all my life, and then boom,’ says Mr. Wenske, an

award-winning journalist of 30 years. ‘Suddenly you’re not the same person you used to be. You look in the mirror:

Who are you?’

The deepening recession [exacted] punishment for a

psychological vice that masquerades as virtue for many

working people: the unmitigated identification of self with

occupation, accomplishment and professional status.”


As we talked, I recalled similar stories from participants in my Halftime Institute – a real estate developer of thousands of suburban homes whose lenders, without notice, pulled the rug out from under his prosperous business. Two top quality guys whose media industries had been decimated by technology, both forced to start over. Big new questions arise: How do I measure success now? What will people think of me? One of my Dallas YPO friends suffering from depression told me years ago, “In Dallas, you are what you do.” Simmons told me of a successful businessman who confided, “Why am I in such turmoil? I have come to realize that life to me is money, affluence and financial security. My feeling of manhood is from all the trappings of wealth.”

Both of us agreed that the primary damage of unemployment is psychological. The average unemployed time span is now six months. The damage to self-confidence is devastating. It is what one friend calls “sitting at home alone with the dog.” A suited-to-the-times group called Executives in Action has been formed in Dallas, led by friend, Jeremy Greg. Its mission is to place executive-level people who have lost their jobs in high contribution (if less well paid) positions using their carefully honed skills in nonprofit organizations. It gives them a place to go, a person to be, and they are living lives of significant contribution. They also fill an embarrassing gap in their resume.

Fully qualified college grads just at the beginning part of their careers are also having difficult times finding jobs. I expect that is causing lots of them to hide out till the storm passes in the world of education via graduate school.

As you may know, I have been exploring the issues of 18-30 year olds. In their book, Quarterlife Crisis s Authors Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner conduct a hundred interviews where they find:

“The extreme uncertainty that twentysomethings experience after graduation occurs because what was once a solid line that they could follow throughout their series of educational institutions has now disintegrated into millions of different options. The sheer number of possibilities can certainly inspire hope –that is why people say that twentysomethings have their whole lives ahead of them. But the endless array of decisions can also make a recent graduate feel utterly lost. …

“The resulting overwhelming senses of helplessness and cluelessness, of indecision and apprehension, make up the real and common experience we call the quarterlife crisis. Individuals who are approaching middle age at least know what is coming.”

Both Simmons and I are seeing this same loss-of-identity following years of role-structured certainty among the on-the-beach Halftimers we encounter. College grads and displaced midlifers both emerge with stunningly similar stage-of-life questions:

Who am I?

What are my strengths?

Where do I belong?


These are the questions Peter Drucker raises in his chapter titled, “Managing Oneself” issues of identity and structure.

Three times I have seen Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Death of a Salesman (a movie with Lee J. Cobb, on stage with Dustin Hoffman, and a television production with Brian Dennehy). In it, Willy Loman has been living a charade as a hot shot road salesman. His “happy family” is in dysfunctional tatters, everyone hiding out behind one mask or another. Willy is having an out-of-town affair. In the end, he takes his life. Just after the funeral, Loman’s wife asks their son, Biff, “Why did he do it? Why did he take his life?” Biff answered,

“He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong. And he never knew who he was.”

Due to self-imposed word limits, I can only suggest the answer now. In two words, as simplistic as this sounds, it is the same for college grads and Halftimers: New Vision.

In the words of Kenny Rogers’ County & Western song, “You got to know when to hold’em and know when to fold’em.”

The most succinct definition of vision I know of comes from Bill Hybels: “It is a picture of the future that produces passion in people.”

I am surprised and fascinated that the issues of self-identity and ‘where do I belong?’ recur at the beginning of Life I (Success) and the new beginning of Life II. (After success, what?)

Here is how the poet, Rachel Lindsey, sums up the life of so many who now face Life II with no clear vision for what now, what next?:

It is the world’s one crime

that its babes grow dull.

Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap.

Not that they serve,

but that they have no God to serve.

The tragedy is not death.

The tragedy is to die

with commitments undefined,

with convictions undeclared

and with service unfulfilled.


Recommended Resources:

The True Measure of a Man in the Midst of Economic Hardship, by Richard Simmons

Executives in Action – information available at:

Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties, by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner


Management Revised Ed, by Peter Drucker



So What about You?

  1. What gets you up in the morning?
  2. On a 10-1 scale, where is your degree of certainty and self-confidence about the future?
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