The word “purpose” is becoming as over-used as “innovation” was a decade ago.
Few people will ever find real meaning in their work. For most it’s the thing that fills the gap between school-drop off and kids’ homework in the evening; its primary function is to earn the money required to pay bills.
If you are lucky, you might like your colleagues, have a decent boss and you may even enjoy what you do. That would give you something in common with the world’s most successful investor. The Carol Loomis biography of Warren Buffett biography is titled: “Tap Dancing to Work.” What makes some people, like Buffett, love what they do so much that they are active into their 90’s and, unlike most of those on their deathbeds who regret having spent the prime of their lives in jobs that were essentially meaningless, it is the thing that defines their time on earth?
Increasingly, I believe it comes down to purpose and I was reminded of this by a wonderful email from Colleen Mkhize the other day.
It went like this: “A younger colleague has recently asked me to be her mentor, she subsequently sent me her prep questions which included “what resources or books have you used as part of your development”. This forced me to reflect on my development over the years. I’m not much of a business book reader, I tried a few but they did nothing for me. I really started to panic as I was at a loss on a resource to recommend and tried to understand if I’ve been winging it my entire 20 odd year career, I then remembered how I used to listen to the MONEY SHOW when I started in my first management role and needed to understand business terms and what was going on in the business space, to this day I deliberately leave the office at 17h55 so I catch the show on my drive home. I have just come to the realization that Bruce Whitfield has been my resource over the years and still is…”
There was other nice stuff too, but it was a wonderful reminder of why I challenge my (rapidly aging) producers daily: “Why” or more pointedly: “Why do I/we care?” It’s the thing that defines what I seek to do daily; provide content that is useful, relevant and has a meaningful impact on people’s lives.
Stickeez were a craze when my eldest son was about eight. He came home from school one day, quite frustrated that his friend Ben had more bits of rubberized landfill than he did. Ben’s dad had a senior job at the retailer that provided them.
“What do you do Dad,” he asked pointedly. I explained how my job involved telling stories and interpreting the world and helping people understand what was happening in it and how best they could navigate it.
“Why can’t you have a job like Ben’s dad?” He could see that I was flummoxed. “At least he can get Stickeez! All you do is blah-blah-blah…”
Turns out my kids are becoming quite proficient at the “blah-blah-blah” themselves. Whatever they choose, I hope they do it with a sense of purpose that notes like the one from Colleen remind me, is mine.