Have you ever had a job where you felt you were paid too much for what you were asked to do and yet too little for what you were capable of doing? I’ve been there. I think most people have.
The Hand We’re Dealt
I’ve worked on several different projects over the years and there are two kinds that really stick in my head. I wish I could say that it was because of how wonderful they are, but it’s quite the opposite.
The first was working for a manager that always saw the cup as half full, and probably full of germs. It wasn’t about what amazing things we could create, but about how bad things were. It wasn’t about the possibility of doing something to be proud of, it was about just doing the job hoping we didn’t all get fired. As you can imagine, it’s not easy to jump out of bed each day when that’s where you’re headed.
The second was a different flavor of the same thing. I was told I was trying too hard. I was trying to make things too good. Instead of making something of quality, I was asked to tone it down. It was okay to make something substandard. We just needed it good enough. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in living a life where my tombstone reads “his work was good enough.”
Work that Matters
If you’re like me, you want to make a difference in the world. Sometimes the people we work for didn’t get the memo. I’ve definitely struggled with this, and if you’ve made it this far, it seems you struggle with it too – that feeling that our careers could be that much more.
After all, most of us work at least 40 hours a week. That’s a huge chunk of our lives. We don’t want that time to be throw away just to have money to fund the rest of our time. We want to feel at least as fulfilled at work as we do outside.
Dan Pink recognized this in a book called Drive. Out of hundreds of books I’ve read, it’s still in the top three. Drive shows us that there are three components that make work exciting, energizing, and, therefore, more productive. They are autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and he touches on them in this TED Talk video.
I Did it My Way
I love reading success books and one of my favorite authors is Brian Tracy who has authored books such as Goals, which is also one of my favorites. In his books I recall him more than once relaying how success involved him taking on pretty much any task his boss would throw at him. His point was that you have be willing to do whatever your boss asks of you.
Still I think there is another component he didn’t recognize. It seems in all these tasks that the boss left it up to Brian to figure out how to make these things happen. He left Brian in charge of the tasks, and it was up to Brian to decide the best way to do it.
On the other hand, I’m sure we’re all been in a situation where we felt like we were simply a pawn in someone else’s plan, where we had great ideas, but weren’t allowed to implement them. If you were, you know what it’s like to long for autonomy.
In order for us to be at our best, we need to feel a sense of control. We need to be able to say “I know how to make this better” and have our boss say “try it out” instead of “no, we need to do it this way.” Autonomy is crucial to momentum. If you’ve ever been in a car with a maniac driver, you know what it’s like to go high speed without having any ability to set the course. Having that stress day in and day out is not only difficult, it’s unhealthy.
Work with your boss to find ways to take control. You may need to start out small, but in order to grow, you need to push yourself in the right direction. Find ways to include autonomy in your day, and you will feel more control in your life.
I’ve played a few online games in my life, and my favorite part has always been spending time with friends and loved ones that I couldn’t see in person on a regular basis. It’s a fun way to connect and enjoy time together despite the physical divide.
Still there were many times I played where the pace was slow and methodical. We moved at a pace that was easy and tried and true, to make sure nothing went wrong. And it bored me.
I wanted a challenge; I wanted to go into a skirmish where the odds weren’t predetermined – where I didn’t know if I would survive. I also knew that how much and often I challenged myself and grew my skills would be a better determinant of whether I would survive future scenarios than taking the safe road on this one.
I’m not saying in business we need to throw caution to the wind, but I am saying that we thrive on challenge. I’m saying that if we always do what is safe and easy, we will become bored fast. If we want to succeed and be at our best, we must find ways to challenge ourselves and grow professionally.
Find ways to do things differently. If there is a way to do a task you know you can do, and a way you know that would be better but you’re not sure how to do it, try it anyway. Expand. Learn. Work with your manager to find ways you can improve in your daily work life.
A Dent in the Universe
“I want to be a part of something larger than myself” “I want to make a dent in the universe” “I always knew I would be part of something big”
If you look at highly successful people, you will see they always had a desire to make a difference in the world. For most, it wasn’t about making money – it was about changing things.
If you want to be at your best, you need to fulfill that sense of purpose that is built into us. It’s not enough for us to just have a job and earn a check. We need to feel that what we do matters. We need to feel that what we do makes a difference.
I’ve been in the job where we had to stay over on the weekend to fix a problem. When that happens you can look at it two ways. As I’ve said, I’ve had the manager that said “it’s just the hand we’re dealt.” That’s someone who’s earning a paycheck. But the manager who says “Our customers depend on us. Without us, they won’t get their insurance check they so badly need. ” or “they won’t get their medicine on time.” or “their kids may not get their gifts on time.” is a manager who instills purpose.
If you want to motivate people, show them how they are making the world better. If you want to motivate yourself, tie each task to a bigger picture of how you are changing the world.
Follow your passion
We often feel stuck where we are. It’s often difficult to find where we fit in. But when we find our passion – what we truly love doing – we need to pursue jobs that feed that passion. The best way to do that is to find jobs that help you accomplish these three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Autonomy: Find ways in your job to take charge. Work with your manager to call the shots on your projects. Work with her to find out what her vision is for the project and then ask to be the one that finds the ways to make it happen.
Mastery: Try new things. Don’t just do things the way you always did them. Look for small improvements along the way. Find ways to always be learning, growing and expanding.
Purpose: Finally, dig deeper. Discover why your company does what it does. Understand how you are changing your customers’ lives for the better. Get a strong sense of purpose connecting your job to the customers’ quality of life. Make that the focus of your daily work.
If you focus on these three things – autonomy, mastery, and purpose – you will be spending a huge chunk of your life doing things that make you feel fulfilled, valuable, and rewarded. Don’t waste your life in the hunt for money – being paid well is a by product; instead, search for fulfillment – a much more rewarding payoff.
For more information and inspiration, I highly recommend that you read Dan Pink’s book Drive. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.