Five Tips for Building a Purpose-driven Career
In October 2015, I had the opportunity to speak and run a workshop at my Alma mater, Cornell University. After over a decade away from school, I was happy to share a few lessons learned along my journey from being a rowdy engineering [oxymoron, I know] undergrad to founding and running a leadership development focused social enterprise.
Thankfully, the room seemed to appreciate what I had to say. I thought I’d put it in writing and hope that a few more people in the Emzingo community find it useful or pass it along to their kids, friends, colleagues, or classmates.
So here’s my professional story in 5 short lessons.
Lesson #1: It’s never too early to be strategic about the life and career your want. Take advantage of what your campus or company has to offer. In some ways, I was an idiot during undergrad. I probably partied and played soccer too much when I could have been using my time more wisely. Today’s campuses are filled with all sorts of career services, volunteer opportunities, student clubs, on-campus speakers, etc… I made the really poor assumptions that going to a great school with a big name would land me where I wanted to be in life. It helped, but I was quite naive. I left so much on the table.
Lesson #2: Resilience – Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Appreciate the former. Work through the latter. Life happens. Life is sh!tty sometimes. If you think it will all be roses, you’re going to get a Mike Tyson-sized punch to the face. Call it GRIT like Angela Lee Duckwork. Think of it as Diane Couto does: “Resilient people possess three characteristics — a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three.” However, you want to frame it, be ready to get back up. I remember a very sad morning during my first full-time job after school when I had to blast Red Hot Chili Peppers as loudly as possible to get myself energy to go to work. I had bottomed out. I was completely unhappy and had that “I was just punched in the face / why did I take this job” feeling. So I turned it into action and found a better fit for myself.
Lesson #3. Be thoughtful about how your passion guides your decisions. During the workshop at Cornell, a young women asked about the idea of following your passion. I can’t say yes or no to this question. Mike Rowe – of ‘Dirty Jobs’ fame – explicitly says not to follow your passion and if you Google “follow your passion” you’ll find a bunch of other articles both promoting and bashing the concept. My advice – be aware of your passion, how it can be integrated into both work and personal life, and constantly step back to ask “what am I passionate about?” In particular, the last part is critical. Your passion will change over time. In my life, living abroad, meeting my wife, changing industries, and going from a student to an entrepreneur all influenced what I was passionate about at different times in life.
Lesson #4: Go from passion to thinking about the problem you want to solve. When I returned to IE Business School to do my MBA, I knew that I cared about leadership development, had an interest in environmental sustainability, and felt a responsibility to give back to my local community and society. While going through IE’s Venture Lab and thinking about what Emzingo would look like in the real world, my thinking shifted from “What am I passionate about?” to “What problem do I want to solve?” The problem that Emzingo and I want to solve is the shortage of Responsible Leaders in the world who can solve the world’s problems, both big and small. We want to create a generation of leaders who can – at the same time – add value to society, create great places to work, improve (not just be less harmful to) the environment, and make money.
Lesson #5: Define meaningful work and a meaningful life. Use that to bridge the gap between content and fulfilled. My wife and I were discussing my presentation before I left for Cornell and she really liked a comment I made related to finding meaningful work. I had commented on how I have observed that so many people are content, but not fulfilled. There is a universe of difference between those two feelings. According to Psychology Today (as referenced by Business Insider), the average American will work 90,000 hours in his or her lifetime. Drink that in. That is a $h!tload of hours. We can think about work differently than being a paycheck. And if you don’t believe me, ask Barry Schwartz.
There is over a decade of experience implicit to these 5 thoughts. If you’re a student or a professional, don’t feel overwhelmed. I suggest starting with a bit of self-awareness . Set aside some time to reflect. It will help get you started.
Thanks for listening.