Have You Found Your Acre of Diamonds?

There’s a very famous parable (credited to Russell H. Conwell) about a poor farmer who cursed his rocky fields and dreamed of a life of riches and ease. Fixing upon the idea of finding diamonds as the way to achieve his dream, he sold up his farm for a pittance and left to explore foreign lands for the precious gems he so desired. His search was futile, ultimately ending in poverty, despair and early death.

Meanwhile, the man who bought the hardscrabble farm from him soon discovered that the small, dark rocks that peppered the fields were actually raw, uncut diamonds. This led to the discovery of one of the largest and richest diamond mines of all time. Had only the poor farmer looked in his own back yard, all of his dreams could have been fulfilled!

As a coach, part of my job is helping my clients uncover their individual hidden “acre of diamonds”. Too often, we tend to overlook our own particular brand of genius, thinking that if it comes too easily, or is too much fun, it must be worthless. To uncover their personal gems, I’ll often ask my clients, “What do you think is your greatest strength? When are you most fully expressing this talent? What do you do effortlessly that is special? If you were on the cover of a magazine, what magazine would it be and what would the story be about?

Peter Bregman is a successful author and consultant on the topic of how we live and how we work. His writing captures the perfect balance between stories you enjoy and practical advice you can implement. With all of his noted success, I wondered how he discovered his own special “acre of diamonds.”

AM: Can you describe a time in your life when it was difficult for you to run your own race (metaphorically speaking)?

PB: That’s never been my problem. I’ve always run my own races. What I have difficulty doing is running other people’s races. And that’s not a good thing. Sometimes, it’s important to follow other people’s lead, work within their rules, operate from the confines of an already established organizational structure. I do that to a point but then I get besot by an idea and I want to break out. Do things differently. I get bored easily and once I’ve done something the same way a few times I’m ready to try something new. But organizational productivity thrives on repetition. Which is a great way to develop expertise; it has its value. But I’m more interested in innovation.

AM: What would you say is your unique ability, and how or when did you discover this?

PB: As is so often the case, my unique ability is also my weakness. I talk a lot. And I’m pretty good at it. When I was an instructor at the National Outdoor Leadership School I was given feedback that I talked too much. I should sit quietly and let other people have space. It’s feedback I’ve often received and I always worked hard to get better at it, without much success.

Then I got a job working at http://www.haygroup.com, a management consulting firm. I remember the moment so clearly; I was in a room with Andy Geller, who ran the New York Office, and we were on a conference call with a fortune 50 client. My very first conference call and my first interaction with a client. I was sitting there quietly, listening, a little hesitant to say anything, when Andy put the phone on mute and said “Peter, say something. Anything. They need to know you’re here and can add value.” Then he took the phone off mute.

I mustered the courage and said something I had been thinking about since the beginning of the call. There was silence for a few seconds – it seemed like forever to me – and then the client said “Peter, you just earned your rate (my billing rate)”. At that moment I knew that I had found the right work. People weren’t telling me to stop talking, they were telling me to talk more.

AM: What helps you stay motivated for the long haul?

PB: I absolutely love what I do. I have awesome clients. Interesting projects. A tremendous amount of freedom to experiment with new ideas. I feel very fortunate to have found a good match between my talents, passions, eccentricities and the work I do.

Also, I keep changing. I’ve been writing a tremendous amount in the past year. I’ve always written – I wrote a book on leading change several years ago, (Point B: A Short Guide to Leading a Big Change) – but I’ve never enjoyed it as much as I do now. I’m writing about much broader array of topics than before as well. And I’m not doing it as a strategy to grow my business. I’m doing it because I love it and readers seem to be enjoying it. I’ll keep doing it as long as I love it.

AM: What is the single greatest piece of advice you’ve received in relation to being true to yourself?

PG: My father gave me wonderful advice. He worked in a job he never really loved. He was successful at it but I think, ultimately, regretted it. He always told me to do what I love. I have two brothers and both my parents always reinforced that we were capable of achieving anything we set our minds to.

Their confidence that we would be successful at anything we did gave each of us the sense that we could do anything we wanted so why not do the things that made us happy. One of my brothers is a fantastic family practice physician – I use him as my own doctor. My other brother is a fabulous film producer. We all went into different areas and each of us loves what we do. I’m very thankful to my parents for that.

AM: Suppose you could meet and talk to your 20-year old self. With the benefit of experience what are the things you would like to tell him?

PG: I’d tell him to keep doing what he’s doing. I have no regrets. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to live a life that I love. I’d tell him to marry Eleanor (my wife) sooner. I have a wonderful family, I live in a great city, I travel, I spend a tremendous amount of time with my family and others I love. I’d tell him to continue to experiment, hone his talents, follow his passion.

Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults about how to lead and how to live. He is the CEO of BregmanPartners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and advises CEOs and their leadership teams. You can sign up to be notified when he writes a new article. Bregman is the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change. He writes a weekly column called How We Work at Harvard Business.org and is a regular contributor at CNN.com. Bregman can be reached at pbregman@bregmanpartners.com.