I start this post with the blunt truth about most of our careers:
Few of us, if any, spend our days saving lives, finding a cure to a rare disease, sending rockets into space, or anything else worthy of writing a new page in history.
Instead, most of us will invest 4 decades of our careers to accomplishments based on PowerPoint presentations, business requirements, meetings, selling stuff, maybe even a working application… but deep down, we know all are more than forgettable once we retire, and likely even sooner.
I’ve yet to hear of anyone leaving a legacy based on their PowerPoint talent.
Harsh? Maybe. Honest? Absolutely.
Many of us accept this truth – or simply push it down into the depths of our conscious to avoid dealing with a reality that will inhibit our ability to get through each workday.
I know this because there was a time in my career I also felt this way.
I was recently reminded of those experiences when I stumbled upon this quote that relates to finding true joy in life by being used for a purpose you believe in:
“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap… being a force of nature.” -G.B. Shaw
Pondering this over the break, I was challenged to reevaluate whether I had chosen tasks worthy of investing the majority of my time professionally this past year versus dedicating myself & my career to a higher-level purpose.
While I finally have a job I enjoy more than any other in my career to-date, I know the happiness my job provides is based on the gratification I get out of investing in the individual job, not investing in a greater driving purpose that transcends just one job and defines an entire career – a life’s work, in a sense.
For many women, the mightiest purpose of all is in serving one’s family… and what I don’t have to tell you is that today, at least for now, I am still wired quite differently than most females I know & respect.
I’ve yet to shake my unwavering passion to serve a meaningful purpose in my career equally to the purpose I will serve at home, leaving me with a desire to dedicate myself to a mighty purpose in both.
And, maybe naively, I truly do believe it’s possible.
The lie we accepted too soon about our careers
Yet, many of us gave up too soon on having both, and we believe our future is set to not include a professional legacy worth remembering, worth talking about once we’re long gone.
We believe our contributions will never be worthy of the history books, and we’ve accepted it.
To those of you in that boat, don’t you dare settle for that as truth just yet.
That nagging question.
Even I obsessively ask myself, 50 years from now, what will the technical fruits be from my decades at work? What will the lasting impact be of my work today once I’m long gone?
The truth? It will likely be a collection of laughable tech relics that are no more valuable once I’m dead & gone than a carton of milk bought today would be.
That’s predictable in technology. And we also know there will only be one Steve Jobs per lifetime, leaving very few things we build to be relevant beyond our death.
With that in mind, how is the utlimate output or purpose of my career any different from a teenager flipping burgers, or even a stripper? The impact and benefit of a job well done is equally temporary in all three, lasting little more than minutes beyond the accomplishment.
That’s depressing, right?
So, I began to think about what it would mean to do so much more: What greater purpose am I capable of committing myself to? What lasting impact will differentiate my career from others?
Finding a purpose you recognize as mighty.
My answer is one I’m still refining… but overall is worthy of dedicating a career to: PEOPLE
Not what I build or develop, but what I invest in those I’m lucky enough to be given the privilege to lead & manage each day is the mightiest purpose I can imagine.
This seems so obvious, right? But way too many claim to do this, and way too few actually do it.
Those who do it will be rare – and it’s a commitment I believe to be quite worthy of my time.
My potential impact on future generations rests squarely in what I invest in these people, the example I set that they too believe worthy of passing on to those they will also one day lead.
It will be in the dollars & minutes spent developing their skills, knowledge freely shared, listening actively engaged in, risks taken to create opportunities for their brilliance to shine, the I-sincerely-give-a-shit commitment to push them to be nothing less than they very best they are capable.
Not saying I’ll be good at it, just that it’s worthy of the attempt.
I believe this is a purpose I’ve recognized as mighty enough to dedicate a career to, even though I can’t say I will actually be good at fulfilling it.
On the contrary, it will be difficult for me to invest the time away from my habitual obsession delivering individual outputs that offer instant gratification.
My career to-date has been built on being incredibly good at exactly that… to invest fully instead in this purpose will require some discomfort on my part to be sure.
This is going to hurt.
I’m committing to doing what isn’t natural, but what I know is best for my company beyond anything else I could invest in… and absolutely is best for those I lead, and also those they will one day lead.
And the end of the day, this is the type of career-driving purpose that won’t provide gratification or visible fruits of labor until possibly the day when I’m not around to see it.
But at the end of a long, exhausting, yet fulfilling career, this is also the very type of rare purpose worthy of tirelessly wearing myself out for… worthy of investing decades of work in to refine… worthy giving myself a chance to hopefully reflect back one day far from now from the scrap heap of my career with what I hope is a tired, but proudly satisfied smile.