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Are you the only pink flamingo in your work group?

My friend Pete retired about a month ago from a thirty-five year career as a “wholesaler” in the financial services industry. He enjoyed his work, his colleagues, and most of all the end users of his offering – the financial advisors he served. His vocation offered a great living for he and his family and is now providing a very comfortable retirement life-style.

I answered a phone call from him last week with a typical “hello”. My greeting was countered by hearty laughter on his end of the line, followed by, “This is the craziest thing! People I’ve known in the industry are calling, asking for my help with out-of-the-box solutions to their challenging business problems. They’re asking me to provide them with the very non-conforming solutions that were rejected by my previous employer, and they even want to compensate me! Now all these people want to pay me for what I was giving my employer for free!” Lastly he said, “Bill, my employer used to say, ‘That’s not what we pay you for Pete.’ What’s wrong with this picture?”

Great question my friend.  What is wrong with this picture?

A pink flamingo is of no value to a black and white flock.  Perhaps “the devil wears Prada”, but pigs prefer mud.  Throw an exquisite handbag from the Italian luxury fashion house into a pigpen and you’ll notice that these large mammals don’t have an appreciation for Prada’s fine leather craftsmanship.  Fill the bag with corn and throw it in….now you’re talking!

Albert Einstein put it this way: “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it’s stupid.”

How about this one: Michael Jordan – greatest basketball player ever…a genius on the court.  He retired from basketball in October 1993, and signed a professional baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox in February 1994. And why?  In a 2007, Sports Illustrated interview, Jordan said it was to pursue a dream his dad had for him to be a major league baseball player. Jordan’s career lasted only one season where he failed to move any higher than the Double-A minor league Birmingham Barons, rounding out the season with a batting average of .202.

It’s a good thing Michael Jordan’s dad let him play basketball.  And it’s a good thing he allowed young Michael to pursue his own dream, rather than limiting his son to that of his father’s. I’d like to think that somewhere along the way Jordan’s dad read the quote by Einstein.

What would the American workplace look like if people were hired not only for their ability to perform the task, but for their talents outside their respective job descriptions? For one, the employee engagement rates (studies show only 30% of U.S. workers are engaged in their work: see: Gallup’s Employee Engagement Survey) would increase, increasing productivity and profitability exponentially. And once they became engaged, what about trying to figure out ways they can bring their unique value to the company with new products, ideas, procedures, etc.?

Are you the only pink flamingo in your black and white office? Do you feel a smoldering discontent in your current role, even though you’re making great money? Living your dream or chasing somebody else’s? Batting .202 when you could be winning NBA championships? Still trying to climb trees with those fins of yours?

If so, it might be time to spread your wings (or your fins).  Why live and work in a black-and-white world when you were made for color?  Find your “why” – what you were created for…what makes you come alive – and go do it!  As great as the box was, my friend Pete is finding that his value might just be even greater outside of it.  How about you?

3 Resources for adding some color to your life: