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Leading with Character: Delayed Gratification

Some readers will be familiar the term, “The Me Generation.” It has its origins with the baby boomers (those born from 1946-1964). After World War II, the United States experienced a new level of prosperity. With the extreme hardships of war behind them, and having sacrificed for years for their country, parents had the resources and inclination to turn their focus to themselves and their children. It’s no great surprise that those baby boom children became “The Me Generation.”

A New Me Generation
It seems the same situation is coming around again as our nation has extracted itself from a long wartime presence overseas, and is moving past the worst of the covid pandemic. There’s a renewed focus on the “self.” Some people in the office environment are looking at work and life with a “what’s in it for me” perspective. That’s not necessarily bad, because finding the right balance is important.

But, there’s an accompanying trend toward instant gratification. As we mature from infancy to adulthood, we learn to delay gratification. We realize that serving at work or at home means sacrificing in the short term to reap rewards later. It means sometimes putting off temporary happiness to achieve long-term satisfaction, gratification, and fulfillment. And isn’t that what really matters in the end?

The Great Resignation
The prosperity that many are experiencing today has spawned what is being called “the great resignation” as people who traditionally worked in offices have become accustomed to the comforts and convenience of staying home. As employers call those employees back to work in the office, some of those employees are demanding to work on their own terms. Many are getting their way—for now. Employees are also looking around for jobs that seem better for them in the moment—more pay, time off, or other benefits that often add up to serving less and receiving more.

Values Matter
This narrow focus on the self may serve people well while there’s a workforce shortage, but will those conditions really last forever? I know good companies that have treated their workers well, but nonetheless lost some of them to “the great resignation.” Later, when those employees realized what they gave up and asked to come back, they were not welcome. In their zeal to get what seemed to be a better deal for themselves, they ended up left behind by a company with strong values that wants people who share those values.

Selfless Service
It’s a tough time to be leading in an organization in corporate America. America is one of the most prosperous, equitable countries in the world. Why is there so much discontent? There is as much onus on the employee as on the employer to create an environment where people feel good about themselves.

I served in uniform in the US Coast Guard for 40 years, including 12 years at sea. It was hard. I learned how to delay gratification by putting things I wanted to do, but didn’t have time for, in a “parking lot.” I tried to put one of those activities on my calendar every month. I had to put off some until retirement, and I kept a list of those as something to look forward to. By learning how to delay gratification, to take pride in the moment from the work I did to serve others, and to be part of something bigger than myself, I retired with an enduring sense of fulfillment. And so can you.

Look in the mirror. As an employee, are you meeting your personal goals while still doing your part to serve your organization to the best of your ability, and to accept the delayed gratification that comes from selfless service?

Please join me again next week for more on Leading with Character.

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