Beyond Happiness: A book review by Bob Morris

Beyond Happiness: How Authentic Leaders Prioritize Purpose and People for Growth and Impact
Jenn Lin
Grand Central Publishing (October 2021)

“Death is not the greatest loss in life…[but rather] what dies inside us while we live.”

This assertion by Norman Cousins is comparable with others, by Socrates (“An unexamined life is not worth living”), for example, and by Henry David Thoreau (“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation”).  More recently, in her review of Richard Powers’ Bewilderment for The New York Times, Tracy Smith observes, “The great American poet Lucille Clifton once said: ‘In the bigger scheme of things, the universe is not asking us to do something, the universe is asking us to be something. And that’s a whole different thing.’ In Clifton’s mind, this proposition was not speculative but resolutely practical. What if we exist to serve as stewards of the planet rather than its plunderers? What if it is our calling to be the equals of all living things rather than agents of their domination? In the face of all that we have waged, ruthless and unending battles for the right to get wrong, what would it take for us to accept a different role in the bigger scheme of things?”

Jenn Lim could not agree more. She wrote Beyond Happiness in order to explain how and why purpose-driven lives can help to accelerate personal growth and professional development by and then with other individuals as well as within communities, societies, and even throughout the “only planet we have.” Think in terms of ripples of initiative. Some may describe it as the Domino Effect. Others may see it as following one’s True North. Still others as accepting, indeed embracing “a different role in the bigger scheme of things.” The process begins with an individual’s commitment to being and doing whatever is most authentic to them, and expands with interactions with others, helping them to begin and then sustain the same process of self-improvement through service to others.

In or near the downtown business district of most cities, there is a farmer’s market at which — at least pre-COVID — merchants have offered slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that same spirit, I now offer a selection of Lim’s observations that are representative of the thrust and flavor of her thinking:

o “With the rise of VUCA, it’s no wonder we also saw the rise of FUD — fear, uncertainty, and doubt– in the forms of stress and anxiety, depression, suicide, and addiction. And it’s inevitable that what’s happening in our lives gets brought into our workplace.” (Page 9)

o “Futureproofing is about understanding the gamut of what is possible, and then, with self-awareness, working to fill our needs — physically, mentally, financially, financially, and spiritually — no matter what job we might currently have.” (27)

o “By exploring our darkest shadows and brightest lights, honest self-inquiry unlocks what we truly are [for better or worse] and what we’re capable of as real and vulnerable leaders within the workplace.” (51)

o “Basically, we need to keep two questions top of mind:

What’s in it for ME?
What’s in it for all (WE/COMMUNITY)?

By starting with ME, you know you’re taking care of your greenhouse [i.e. the portion of the planet in which you live and work]. By responding to them both, you ensure that everyone’s greenhouse is benefitting in coexisting and symbiotic ways.” (63)

o “Identifying and prioritizing your values — then making it a habit to apply them to everyday and major work/life decisions — has been one of the simplest life-changing practices I’ve seen people happily adopt. Your life starts aligning with the core of your ME naturally, and you might start wondering how you ever managed spending your time differently.” (81)

o “As we know, greenhouses help stabilize ideal conditions so plants can grow. They help protect against  extreme weather and provide a better climate for plants that would struggle outside. As I mentioned in Part 1  [Pages 3-60], we can create conditions within orgs that let people [ME and WE in collaboration] grow and thrive.” (113)

o “As volatile as the world has been, it’s impossible not to acknowledge that this new abnormal is an opportunity to put some ecosystems of people and our voices, our power and privilege, and our resiliency and resources to better use. The business case for society and humanity has never been stronger, and the time to do something about it is now. (185)

In this context, Margaret Mead offers this advice: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Dozens of other business thinkers have already published articles and even books in which they have identified the WHAT of prioritizing both purpose and people to achieve organizational growth and impact. The unique value of Lim’s approach is that she explains in her book the HOW when preparing and then embarking upon that perilous process.

Hence the importance of the dozens of exercises that Jenn Lim strategically inserts throughout her narrative. That is why I strongly recommend that you keep a lined notebook near at hand when reading and then re-reading this book so that you can complete these exercises in an appropriate way as well record your comments, questions, and page references to what you have highlighted. This material will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points later.

Beyond Happiness is a brilliant achievement. Bravo!




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