Be relevant for yourself: Book offers tips to ‘matter more’

One of my coaching clients is on an airplane several days out of every week. While flying, he catches up on his reading. We all know how quickly it can pile up – journal and magazine articles, books, even pieces clipped from newspapers. (All in this paperless world we were told to expect.) Few of us fly as much as this client does, so adding to the list of “must reads” is nothing I do lightly.

However, a few days ago a book titled “Relevance: Matter More” was launched and I believe it is worth reading for anyone beyond middle school age. The authors are Phil Styrlund and Tom Hayes, in partnership with Marian Deegan. Phil, as chief executive officer of The Summit Group, advises leaders of some of the world’s premier organizations. Tom owns Riley Hayes, a highly successful advertising agency recognized for work that achieves relevant results. Marian is the founder of Fortuni and writes masterfully for business and health care leaders.
The desire to produce this book was ignited by the authors’ belief that we all yearn to matter more. They wanted alternatives for people who feel like interchangeable commodities, and they determined that relevance was the most desired way out of uncertainty. Carefully gathered evidence led them to write about lifelong relevance to those we serve, based on our personal gifts and talents.
Relevance is the result of mindful interweaving of four dynamics: authenticity, mastery, empathy and action. We’ve heard these words many times before. For me, though, they remained somewhat like stray pieces of a jigsaw puzzle until they were fitted together here with the focus on being relevant in the world. The authors build a convincing list of benefits of mattering, of being relevant in our personal and professional lives. I thought several times during my reading of this book, of course we want to matter! Who wants to be that guy, you know, that guy who always wears a navy suit. Or the woman who “took Mary’s place.” Or that uncle who always shows up on Thanksgiving…can’t remember his name. No one wants to just fill a slot. We probably all want to matter more than we do this very second.
Authenticity for these authors boils down to being true to self and real to others. They present interesting and vivid stories about that process of knowing ourselves, our strengths and limitations, and of how critical it is. One story brings in the Dr. Seuss book, “Happy Birthday to You!” and the lines “Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you.” I wish it were easier to star in our own lives versus walking around in an assumed identity. This book certainly inspires the reader to do the work and earn the benefits of authenticity.
Mastery requires the command of authentic skills. It is more a path than a destination. It unfolds from striving to be the best version of yourself, the authors say. One interesting part of the discussion of mastery is the commentary on distraction. Some of the symptoms they include are: an addiction to activity; the mental state of constant emergency overload; the compulsion to access the rich data mines provided by technology; and the emotional absence resulting from attachment to screens on phones, laptops, etc. I would add the habit of mentally rehearsing trivial pursuits. Choosing to be distracted for pleasure – well that is something else, entirely.
There are also reminders to stroll toward mastery. Moving at lightning speed probably doesn’t lead to mastering our gifts and it makes us vulnerable to error. As an example, they describe bidders at a fast-paced auction, forgetting all good sense in a frantic desire to win the item that is “going, going, gone.” I have some of those items tucked away should you like to have them.
Well, empathy. What a lovely part of character and an element that can bring magic into our lives. A quote from the book: “Unless mastery and empathy go hand-in-hand, we can’t be sure that the talents we offer are actually needed by those to whom we offer them. If our skills aren’t helpful to those we serve, relevance will remain beyond our grasp.” It takes a listening heart, among other things. It takes practice and being in the present. It is worth all that and more.
Without action none of these elements will actually result in relevance. The authors provide a lot of guidance in this area. Haven’t you known people who never seem to execute their impressive skills? People who seem determined to keep their lights under a bushel? Always sad to see, isn’t it?
“Relevance: Matter More” is an intelligent and lively read with a depth I appreciate. I hope you find it of significant help as you take the steps to matter more for yourselves and for others.
Jo Gorissen is a certified transition coach and a former Milwaukee area resident. Her website is and she can be reached at (414) 305-3459.

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