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Happiness and Careers: A Definition

Happiness and Careers: A Definition
A Retired Surgeon-Turned-Pilot Opines

Thoughts on Authentic Leadership
By John P. Schreitmueller



As a pilot, I have been an avid reader of FLYING magazine since 1966, when I took my first flying lesson. The pages of FLYING, I have found, often reveal more about people than airplanes, and the June 2014 issue is consistent with that finding.

In the “Gear Up” section of the June issue, Dick Karl, MD, a retired surgeon who has launched a very meaningful second career as a pilot for JetSuite, a company that provides high quality, on demand jet charter services, offers one of the best assessments of the happiness-versus-career equation I have seen in some time.

Karl writes, “ Most studies of income and happiness posit that, after basic needs are met, increased income is a relatively impotent driver of increased happiness. Somewhere around $75,000 a year, making more money loses its power. If you don’t love your work, the salary becomes a surrogate for that loss. If you can comfort yourself with a new car and a bigger house, the seduction continues, but the life takes on a hollow character, it seems. On the other hand, if treating the sick or flying glorious airplanes is a sustainable thrill, these pleasures become part of your compensation package. If they don’t thrill you, you will be underpaid, no matter how splendid the salary.”

He continues, “A recent outing to a spring training Yankees game with a few friends and some of their friends brought this all home again. There were eight of us: two lawyers in practice, a law professor, a painter, a guy who does something with music, an interventional radiologist, a newspaperman and me. The biggest earners, the two practicing lawyers and the doctor, expressed the most unhappiness. The lawyers were inundated with work. They complained of late hours, relentless push for more billable time and a disconnect from their families. The doctor was bitter about regulations, electronic health records, compliance issues and the general business of medicine.

The most content, it appeared, were the individuals who made a living by the art of painting, making music or writing, even though they made way, way less money. I found myself thinking I was happier than the whole lot. Why?

…. Somewhere in your 40s, it occurs to me, you figure out where you fit in this world. If you have been lucky enough to free yourself from everybody else’s expectations for you and developed your own sense of what you want out of life, the rest gets easy. Most of us can accomplish what we want, once we know what it is we want.

This self-awareness has the additional advantage of befuddling management. The usual carrots and sticks won’t work if you have your own compass, especially if it isn’t aligned with conventional wisdom… If one can’t figure out himself, then life is a series of challenges authored by others. While pursuing goals manufactured by somebody else, even if a well-meaning spouse, teacher or boss concocts them, the risk is that you may never please them or, more importantly, yourself.”

Karl goes on to outline how his new job as a pilot, at age 68, is incredibly meaningful and fulfilling. His career re-deployment is, indeed, authentic.

In his article, Dr. Karl gives superb definition to what we call the “authenticity factor” in our practice advising business owners, senior executives, professionals, their leadership teams and key stakeholders. Self-awareness and deep understanding of one’s authentic professional and personal goals comprise the “compass” Karl describes. Armed with that compass, job satisfaction and overall happiness are likely. Without it, well, one navigates in the blind.

Dr. Karl closes with this: “When I asked a senior pilot at US Airways about his losses accrued via the company’s bankruptcy, he acknowledged that he lost close to a million in retirement. “But,” he said, “I still get to fly airplanes.”

Enough said.




John P. Schreitmueller, PCC, ECP-BC is CEO of Resolute Consulting Group LLC. His Atlanta-based practice specializes in helping business owners, executives and professionals achieve their authentic business and personal goals.

Excerpts are from “The Pursuit of Happiness: Can a Career Sustain its Initial Appeal?” by Dick Karl, MD, in FLYING magazine, Bonnier publications, Palm Coast, FL, June 2014.


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