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Recapturing those inspiring feelings
“Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last.” — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1911
There’s something about First Days, whether it’s the first day of school or the first day of a new job.
It seems to me that there’s an opportunity there for leaders, as we tend to be more wide-eyed and impressionable on such exciting days.
Do you remember the anticipation of that first day of school when you were a child?
That feeling of excitement (maybe dread for some!) that came with back-to-school shopping in office supply stores, picking out new clothes, and counting the hours until you'd be back in school with your friends again.
Or of getting out of bed on a late summer morning, as you prepare for that first day of school, with the air fresh and cool. You’d be so excited for that first day that you’d rouse yourself early without an alarm, scarf down a bowl of cereal, and rush out the door to meet up with friends.
You might stand at the bus stop as the sun peaked over the treetops, still feeling a little tired and rubbing your eyes, holding your metal lunchbox (remember that beauty you picked out that came with a matching thermos?), talking with other kids from your neighborhood.
Those are powerful memories.
Now consider how you make the first day of work special for your new hires.
Do you just give them a laptop and show them the intranet, or are you making it feel as unique and special as it must feel to them?
I was rereading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s speech to the Harvard chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, titled “The American Scholar,” delivered in 1837. He begins by referencing “the recommencement of our literary year” — i.e., the school year.
If we’re lifelong learners—students beyond the walls of the academy—the “literary year” for us is one that begins on January 1 and ends on December 31. It is with us always. It is life.
While we’re at it, why only make the first day a special one? Why shouldn’t we inspire our team constantly?
“When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read become luminous with manifold allusion.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1837
We can find inspiration everywhere. In every book we read, in every walk we take.
This isn’t about removing ourselves from our current state of thinking, but putting our problems and stresses in the back of our minds temporarily, to alleviate some of the burden.
It’s then that insights and analogies pop up, when we refocus from the challenges at hand to dive into things more intellectual or entertaining.
In finding our inspiration, we can then inspire others. For that is what will keep them engaged far more than motivation; making them feel as if it’s that First Day again.
Emerson said that we pass through different stages as we age. In the last five years or so, I’ve felt this metamorphosis happening in myself; I’ve been more interested in helping people become the best humans they can be and focusing on relationships rather than transactions.
Emerson laid out these changes:
“Historically, there is thought to be a difference in the ideas which predominate over successive epochs, and there are data for marking the genius of the Classic, of the Romantic, and now of the Reflective or Philosophical age… I believe each individual passes through all three. The boy is a Greek; the youth, romantic; the adult, reflective.”
Now consider that in terms of the tenure of your employees. We rarely have the luxury of decades-long employees any more, but that progression of enthusiasm to self-awareness still applies over a shorter timeframe.
Your longer-term team members might help recreate the excitement they remember. With your encouragement and confidence, they might feel inspired to take responsibility for the next wave coming through.
The magic of First Days is hard to recapture. But if we work toward inspiring each other, we might have some semblance of it.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
P.S. Don’t miss the next episode of the Timeless Leadership podcast, which picks up where we leave off today. I’ll be talking with Stephen M.R. Covey about his latest book, Trust and Inspire.
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