There’s a lot of fuss made about disaffected office workers. It’s well known that in some offices, you can get away with doing next to nothing. And yet in other offices, people are driven and passionate. In fact, you’ll see it implied in business magazines and management books that challenging and autonomous work is the ONLY way to get people to enjoy their work and take pride in it.
What about factory workers? It would seem that they have the very opposite of challenging and autonomous work. In fact, the assembly line is constructed so that every person completes just one discrete task, over and over, as the unit weaves its way through various work-stations. And yet, at least some factory workers do take pride in their work.
So I guess it’s not just about autonomy and challenge.
What If It’s About Purpose? What If It’s About Impact?
I had a business owner come to me last year. When she filled out my intake form, when she filled in the question about the outcome she’d like to have from our work together, she wrote, “I want to have a business I’m proud of.”
This is a woman who’s been a successful freelancer for about ten years. That’s certainly something to be proud of.
When I asked her what she meant by the statement, she cast around for a while and finally said, “When I’m at a dinner party, I want to be proud when I say what I do for a living.” An ego thing? Maybe. But there was plenty of work to do on her business and we did it, and we didn’t come back to the idea of pride for almost a year.
Throughout our meetings, she’d always talked about the volunteering she was doing. She framed it as if this was a marketing strategy for her, but she didn’t actually do any of the things that people do when they’re networking. Instead, she always talked about her hopes for what the organizations could accomplish, even though she mainly stayed behind-the-scenes.
At one meeting, as we reviewed her projects and where she’d spent her time for the last quarter, it emerged that almost 1/3 of her time was spent working with and for these organizations. And that she’d likely be doing more work in the future, because she’d just been asked to take on a leadership position in the organization where she spent the most time.
“Maybe,” I said, “You should treat volunteering as your main passion. I know people talk about how when you start a business, it should be your passion. But it doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t have to be your only passion.”
As a freelancer, she didn’t have a sense of purpose and impact. She did good work, she helped her clients immensely, but it was always work for the client. Not for herself. And although she was well-compensated (and is better compensated now) she did not feel a great deal of pride for what she did.
(It’s interesting– even though she went above and beyond, she treated it as though it was the bare minimum. And no one is particularly proud when they fulfill minimum standards. Another reason for the lack of passion.)
But while volunteering, she felt like she was a part of something larger, something that was having an impact on the world, and that she was an important part of that work. And that’s something that she’s proud of.
A Deadly Sin
Pride is something we often struggle with. Pride goeth before a fall. No one likes a show-off. #Humblebrags are tacky. The nail that sticks up gets the hammer.
Pride isn’t just gauche in some circles, very often it’s a behavior that makes you a target. We just saw testimony from a Harvard professor how, collectively, we penalize women who negotiate for higher salaries, even when they are more than qualified.
But pride is crucial to our emotional well-being.
And, it’s not something we should be ashamed of. (Though I won’t argue that discretion is sometimes the better part of valor.)
I’m tremendously proud of the fact that I get to help people become independent by building their own business. I get to do this here, and also through my favorite charity, Kiva, which makes tiny loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries so that they can become independent, too.
Abigail has told me how she wants her jewelry to be comfortable but confident, so that a busy woman can throw on any piece of hers and know she’ll look amazing and never have to fuss with it. Abby’s proud to be able to help women achieve, if only by making sure they look good while they kick ass.
Joel’s purpose is to demonstrate to people how much better their lives can be once they start to live consciously and simply. He’s proud to be evangelizing a movement that helps people get off the consumerist hamster wheel and do what will truly make them happy.
So I guess what I’m asking here is, what are you proud to be doing? What’s your purpose, and how are you living it?
Please share what you’re proud of in the comments.