What do you want to be when you grow up, John Lennon?

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
John Lennon

It is said that we are all largely driven by seeking a level of self worth.  We all have different approaches to achieving self worth.  Whether or not we also achieve happiness is closely related to the approach we take to achieving self worth.

Lennon’s school teacher’s question was effectively – what will you do to achieve self worth, when you grow up?

What Lennon’s answer communicates is that self worth is not necessarily a satisfactory objective on it’s own.

For much of our more recent history the pursuit of self worth for men has largely revolved around asserting our power over others.  Mostly with weapons and more recently with money (also in sport, gambling and many other forms of competition).  For women it is more subtle, but has often also involved asserting power over others through relationships or children.

Proving our power over others creates a relative sense of self worth.  “I feel good, because at least I am better of that him/her”  – it is the origin of bullying and a great deal of conflict.  It does not of course create an absolute sense of self worth and is not all that likely to lead to happiness, merely relief at being the victor rather than the victim.

For absolute self worth we need to keep the focus internal and avoid being distracted by relativism.  Focus on clarifying: Who am I?  What is the greatest value I can offer? And then delivering it.

The same is true for businesses, teams or organisations.  There is a strong temptation to get sucked into relativism, setting objectives of being the biggest or the best or at least bigger or better than a particular competitor.   This kind of objective will only ever lead to relative success and relief rather than happiness.

If we can articulate our vision in terms of the greatest value that we can offer our customers and staff, with the tools and talents we have available to us, we have the opportunity of absolute success and experiencing happiness.

As you may know, John Lennon formed a band and together they practiced intensely until they could deliver the greatest possible value to their customers.  Not content with that they avidly pursued their own development, learning and growth to continuously increase the value they were able to deliver.  I hope that in sharing his valuable and profound messages with the world, he also achieved his original intention of personal happiness.

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With love


Neil Crofts
authentic business
+34 646391384
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About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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One Response to What do you want to be when you grow up, John Lennon?

  1. RedMeatState says:

    This quote of John’s ( and I will attribute it to him, regardless of supposed “controversies” regarding it’s source) is a brilliant demonstration of the difference between Identity and Roles. Most people establish their worth by the Roles they play or fill, not by their Identity. We tend to , because we are TAUGHT to, determine our self worth by our success vs failures, achievements, etc. and COMPARING OURSELVES WITH OTHERS. This is not our identity. Roles are what we do, have done, achieved. “Status”, wealth, etc., These do not make us happy and are fleeting substitutes for true self worth and happiness. If it’s true that ” I think, therefore I am”, then it should also be true that “I am happy because I am”.

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