A Great Pleasure in Life Is Doing What People Say You Cannot Do.
Walter Bagehot was an early 19th century businessman, and in1861, he began the first of his 17 years as the editor of the London based weekly “The Economist.” While Bagehot wrote several books, Lombard Street, in 1873, was one of his most important – and a big influence on modern financial systems. The title of this blog post is a quote from him. He was arguably the most influential editor of The Economist, remembered today in the Bagehot column on the web and in the printed version of the magazine.
If I had a time machine, it would be interesting to travel back and ask Walter why he said this – and why this quote of his would outlive him - he clearly must have said this multiple times. A deeper look into his life shows that his father was a VP, and his father in law was the founder and owner of the Economist.
It raises the question of what was it that he did and who did he defy that gave him this pleasure?
We are all underdogs in some aspect of our lives. There is always someone in our life who doesn’t believe in us. They might not tell us directly – it might be their body language – or an email that’s ignored, or a “like” that we expect but never see. The people that don’t think you can be a novelist, a managing partner – or that you can run a 10-minute mile – or that you can quit smoking – whatever it is, we all have disbelievers in our lives.
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a people manager or an HR professional is that we have a position where we can hold a mirror up to individuals and say, “you can do it.” The WWII cultural phenom Rosie the Riveter rallied people with a “We Can Do It!” message. We have that position – and it’s our responsibility to use it for good.
Walter Bagehot reminds us that there is nothing more satisfying than proving people wrong about you and your achievements. Think back to your high school guidance counselor’s advice for you.
It’s critical for HR professionals to see the best in people, not the worst. Sometimes, we may all end up in job that is not a good fit. That doesn’t mean that the individual is a failure, it only means that it’s not a good fit.
As managers and as HR professionals, we need to support people to find their bliss and prove their disbelievers wrong.
There is nothing so satisfying, for any of us, to show people that we exceed their expectations. History is filled with examples of people who defied expectations. Abraham Lincoln grew up in a one room log cabin. Gandhi, da Vinci, MLK, FDR, JFK, Helen Keller, Anne Frank, Ada Lovelace – so many examples of people breaking out of the early expectations to change the world.
Our job is to encourage and support bold ambition and great dreams – to empower everyone to feel that great pleasure in life that Walter Bagehot talks about when we do things that people don’t think we can do.
Regardless of what others think, as Anne Frank said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
We are here to change the world….