January 7, 2021
How can you once again find the passion and purpose in your career?
This has been an extremely challenging year. My colleagues and I have spoken with many who feel disconnected, discouraged. They lament that their current work has begun to feel stale. Yes, social isolation has compounded that. Working from home, while it has some benefits, also has many challenges. The spark has dimmed for many people.
Work is an essential dimension in most people’s lives. It is where we spend most of our waking hours. If work loses its meaning, purpose, and excitement, then life itself is in danger of losing those elements as well. This message is about making a fresh start in a position you have had for quite some time.
It will invite you to take a new look at your job and what you might do to hit the “refresh” button in a manner that will produce positive results.
First, I acknowledge that being in the middle of a pandemic has many miserable elements. Chances are, you have your list. Many of your list factors are probably on mine as well, but yours is still somewhat unique to you. Some that we probably have in common are:
1. Work has been redefined. For most of us, it used to be that work was a place to which we commuted. In times past, only 16% of the workforce spent much of their workweek at home. Today, that number is close to 60%.
2. We’ve learned that work is outcomes that need to be produced. It isn’t a place we commute to, as it was in the past.
3. In decades past, many employees longed for greater autonomy and self-direction. Now, suddenly, employees are on their own. No supervisor is watching them. No one dictates their daily schedule. Like the freshman college student, they now have a great deal of freedom; but this came without warning or deliberate preparation.
4. Social isolation is hard for most people. While some thrive amid functioning alone, the number of people who voluntarily choose to be hermits is relatively small.
On the plus side, however, this pandemic has, for most people, brought some opportunity. For those no longer commuting, the best estimates are that you’ve been given the equivalent of 11 extra days in the year on average. If a significant portion of that time is devoted to your personal development, that is a meaningful gift and a valuable opportunity.
Where is the refresh button?
Each person needs to create their own mechanism for refreshing their job. Here are some thoughts about how you might go about that.
1. In times past, work was often defined by a set of minimum expectations or standards. For example, it could be claims processed, lines of code written, number of calls handled by a customer service specialist per hour, sales revenue produced — and other definable outcomes. For a “refresh” button, one opportunity is to think about the outer or upper limit for someone in your position, rather than the minimum. What could be possible?
2. How could I deliberately develop myself to move to the next level? What will give you the purpose that fuels your career? This is a topic to which we have given some thought. The formula we would suggest has the acronym CPO. This stands for:
· Competence. What is my current skill level? What are my strengths? What do I do today at a “B” level that I could move to an “A” level?
· Passion. What elements of my job am I most excited and passionate about? Chances are there are some parts of your job that you do because they need to be done. Other features are genuinely exciting and appealing. These are activities in which you lose all sense of time. They seem more like play than work.
· Organizational need. Finally, as you take an “eagle’s eye” view of your job, there are some outcomes that the organization really needs you to produce. These are outcomes that would dramatically move the needle that describes the overall performance of your group. If you are not sure about what those elements are, a conversation with your boss might shed some light on that question.
It is the intersection of those three elements that creates the ideal opportunity. Find where they overlap, and you are likely to find the perfect development opportunity for yourself.
Personal reflections on Finding Purpose in My Career:
A personal note. I just turned 89 and I am frequently asked, “Why are you still working?” While I could make up a long list of specific reasons, I am convinced that there is something extremely fundamental about work that fulfills my basic motivations.
Philosophers, neuroscientists, social scientists, and popular business writers have largely come to the same conclusions about human motivation. It seems to boil down to the desire for autonomy, competence (mastery), relatedness, and purpose. We value activities that make us feel good as we attain them.
Paul Thagard, a philosopher and neuroscientist, argued that three activities or behaviors generally create positive feelings within most of us. They are love, work, and play. Work, for me, links to most of my human motivations.
· It feeds my desire for autonomy. (Undoubtedly, I have more of that now than I did 50 years ago and being the CEO of a company helps.) My daily work is a stream of interesting problems to solve or try to resolve. I’m pushed outside my comfort zone.
· It affords the opportunity and motivation to learn, which feeds my desire for mastery. While I do not think I’m as fast at doing some things as I used to be, I attempt to make up for that by being wiser.
· Having colleagues at work fills a basic human need for connections, relatedness and contact.
· Finally, work satisfies my need for purpose. Our firm is focused on helping people become better leaders, which I believe to be a noble cause.
In Dickens classic book, A Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley’s ghost visited Scrooge to warn him of the consequences of the path he was on. Scrooge reminds Marley that “he was a man of business,” to which Marley replies, “Business? Mankind was my business.” That sums up why I keep working.
(This article first appeared on Forbes.)
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