What would you like your Work Tombstone to say?

What would you like your Work Tombstone to say about you?

What would you like your work tombstone to say about you?

Imagine an epitaph inscribed, ‘I’m glad I gave my all to my job! Nothing else matters.’

Now visualise your life represented as a stove with four burners on it, each burner symbolising a part of your life. The first burner represents your family, the second burner your friends, the third burner your health, and the fourth burner your work. The Four Burners Theory by James Clair says that to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And, to be more successful you have to cut off two. The Four Burners Theory reveals a truth everyone must deal with: nobody likes being told they can’t have it all, but we all have constraints on our time and energy. Hence, every choice has a cost.

Which burners have you cut off? Are you aware of the burners you have cut off, and the consequences of the same?

Many of us turn on the work burner to a high flame in our 20s and 30s, alongside perhaps, the friends’ burner. By the 40s & 50s, the health and family burners generally get more active. Thereafter, the work burner largely fades, and the health and family and friends’ burners interplay. While this is not cast in stone, there are exceptions to the rule. Captain CP Krishnan Nair, the founder of the Leela Palaces and Resorts, is a prime example of this exception, who turned up his work burner to the highest level once he crossed 60, an age when most hang up their work boots. To some extent, this also applies to P.R.S. Oberoi, for he became more active in his golden years.

For most people, the perspective on life changes as one approaches the golden years.

Spirituality, happiness, peace, equanimity, a Zen-like attitude, work-life balance, and stress management, are the buzz-words for Gen Xers as they approach self-actualization. While some continue to keep the work burner in a conflagration mode, many begin to realise that time waits for no one, and they turn to their friends, family, and health burners, to achieve a different and more holistic purpose in life. The recent pandemic has also spurred this thinking, as many have lost friends or family over the past two years to this dreadful virus.

Albert Einstein was once staying at Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel when a courier came to the door to make a delivery. The courier either refused a tip or Einstein had no small change, but Einstein wanted to give the messenger something nonetheless. So, on a piece of hotel stationery, Einstein wrote in German his theory of happiness: ‘A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.’ The bellhop saved this note. Subsequently, in an auction in Jerusalem, this note on happiness was sold to an anonymous European bidder for $1.56 million. Einstein was estimated to have an IQ of 160, but his Emotional Intelligence (viz. EQ – Emotional Quotient) seems pretty much to have been up there too, for he realised the worth of the pursuit of happiness over work success.

Whatever the choice one makes, one needs to make peace with it. There is no right or wrong choice, as long as one is content with the decision one makes on which burner to tend to.

However, whatever choice we make on which burner to concentrate on, one day, we will be in the past… whether work-wise or life-wise.

What would you then like your epitaph to say about your work achievements? What should your Work Tombstone say about you?

In the pursuit of this article, I called and spoke to several Vice Presidents, Managing Directors, and Entrepreneurs within the hospitality industry, and asked them what one legacy they would like to leave behind at their workplace, once they would graduate to the next phase of their lives, and what would they like their work tombstone to say about them?

A few wished to be remembered for their tenacity at work, their passion for excellence, or for giving their utmost (100%) to their jobs.

The majority spoke of professional soft strengths and ethical qualities they would like to be remembered for – being a great mentor, a caring leader, or a straightforward, fair, and honest leader.

How many of us can define our contributions to our jobs which are beyond the regular profitability parameters?

While, generating EBIDTA for our owners is important, and it is the primary reason for us being recruited for our jobs; it is the legacy of passion, ethics, impartiality, and mentoring that we will be remembered for.

Even as we are delighted and proud when our son or daughter is successful and seen as a ‘regular chip of the old block,’ we are also thrilled to see our legacies living on and practiced by people we may have mentored in our professional lives. More than achieving our work targets, the accomplishments of one’s mentees, which they duly credit to you, tend to give us much more far-reaching delight than other KRAs we may have achieved in our jobs.

Personally, my greatest joy is being remembered for the work I did, which has benefited my associates, colleagues, and teams. I am gratified when people come up to me and say that my passion and interest in their learning and development far outweigh any other work relationships they may have had with other leaders. And, I am equally elated when people remember me for my ethical qualities, rather than my professional achievements.

So, what keeps you ticking in your job?

What is the reason for your existence? What is it your Work Tombstone would say about you? For which attribute would you want to be remembered most? Your achievements for yourself, or your achievements for others?

On a lighter note, here’s a topical limerick I have composed for the occasion…

There was a hotelier from Boston
Who wrote his own tombstone
“I worked all hours, etched he
Not caring for friends or family
Now eventually, I’m all alone”

This article has appeared in ET HOSPITALITY WORLD.COM May 2022

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