I’ve felt a rush of energy lately to become very clear with what I’ve learned on my quest for work I love and what it means for myself and others. For over three years I’ve read, studied, listened, written, and thought about the connection between people and their work and it’s time to share these learnings and begin the shift to a new way of thinking about a corporate career.
My own life experiences include entrepreneurship and corporate work, and while each has fulfilled me in certain ways, separately they have not been able to satisfy my deep desire for meaningful and challenging work. Now I see a path forward for an integrated approach to life and work, where core values are the foundation from which artists, craftsmen, creators, dreamers, and innovators can thrive in a corporate job without compromise.
In this post I deconstruct how I came to define work I love and develop my mission statement. My intention is to provide a roadmap for others who sense that there’s something deeper that work has to offer and are willing to do the work it takes to discover the path to their calling.
From a Job to a Calling
In 2018 I set out to find work I love. I quit a good job and took a leap of faith towards finding work that was fulfilling, inspiring, and fueled by innovation. The years that followed did not play out like I had visualized. I underestimated the challenge of pursuing deep meaningful work in a business world that glamourizes quick wins, shallow transactions, and overvalued unicorn start-ups. It was time for me to reduce this noise and reflect on what was important to craft the quality of life that I aspired to have.
My experiences as a marketing leader at two companies had put me at odds with my core values and it had become increasingly difficult to show up fully every day and do my best work. This prompted me to approach my quest for work I love in two parallel tracks: 1) Create a target list of companies based on values, mission, and demonstrable commitment to people, 2) Conduct a period of self inquiry and then create an integrated approach to life and work.
Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You has served as a compass during my quest, and two others of his, Digital Minimalism and Deep Work, have been hugely impactful in helping me develop habits to reduce shallowness and strengthen focus. From the aforementioned book, I feel it’s helpful to provide context for a job versus a calling – cited from “Jobs, Careers, and Callings: People Relations to Their Work,” Journal of Research on Personality, Wrzesniewski, McCauley, Rozin, et al:
A job is a way to pay the bills, a career is a path toward increasingly better work, and a calling is work that’s an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity.
As you move towards your calling in life, work or actions that conflict with your core values can trigger emotions that can cause you to feel stuck, drained, or cover who you really are and not show up authentically at work. One signal I’ve noticed that emerges when I am out of sync with my values is irritability. This can happen when quantity over quality is a measure of success or when I sense someone is not acting in the best interest of others.
When I begin to feel the stir of irritation, I pause and consider what is triggering the sensation. Sometimes it’s obvious, but when it’s not I challenge myself to park the feeling and think it over during a period of reflection (like a walk outside). When I am able to pinpoint the cause of the irritation I examine the situation and bucket it into one of these categories:
- This is not my problem to solve. (i.e. Another person has work to do in this area)
- I have some work to do here. (i.e. I’ve allowed other experiences and feelings to pop up here that don’t belong.)
- The situation is out of alignment with my integrity and I will address it directly.
Feeling a significant connection to my work has become increasingly important to me, and I don’t believe it’s any coincidence that this desire for whole-self alignment coincides with getting very clear on my core values. A core values exercise is a great way to identify the way you want to show up in the world and your values are the foundation from which to create work you love. Try this 10-minute core values exercise to jump start the process.
Track What Matters
One of my core beliefs is how you spend your time says a lot about what you value in life. Time is a great equalizer; a nonrenewable resource of 24-hours in a day for everyone everywhere. On a day that I had deemed as perfect, I came across an excerpt from the memoir Chasing Daylight by Eugene O’Kelly. The excerpt describes how Eugene purposefully unwinds his most meaningful relationships before he passes away from cancer. He says he had more perfect moments and perfect days in two weeks that he had in five years, and then he asks: “How long would it take you to create 30 perfect days”?
Around this same time, I listened to a podcast where Jim Collins described how he tracks his time every day and has done so for many years. I decided to combine these two concepts and began a daily practice of tracking how I spend my time. My reason for experimenting with this was two-fold: I wanted to be very intentional about dedicating my time to what mattered most to me in life, and I was curious if these buckets of time would correlate with an overall higher emotional state of being. For over two years now I’ve been tracking my time every day in a Google spreadsheet. It takes about one minute to complete and I track these details:
- Short description of the day
- Hours spent in Flow, Activity, and Relationships
- An overall emotional rating (five levels: -2, -1, 0, +1, +2)
After the first year of time tracking I used the data to create a wellness meta habit. Here is that process:
- Sort the sheet in ascending order using the emotional rating column.
- For each of the five emotional ratings calculate an average day by averaging hours tracked in each of the three time bucket categories.
- Identify what the days with the highest emotional rating had in common.
What I noticed was that the highest rated emotional days had an average of two hours in the Active category, which can be defined as an activity that elevates my heart rate such as hiking, walking, yoga, or weight lifting. With this knowledge I promptly gathered some friends and launched a 60 hours in 30 days Wellness Challenge where we committed to the goal of an average of two hours of self care every day for 30 days. We kept in touch and motivated each other through a group chat and I kept a journal about this self care experiment. From that point forward I’ve been very intentional about scheduling and maintaining a minimum of two hours of physical activity every day. I do this with the knowledge that it’s a primary ingredient to me feeling my best, which I know has a direct impact on doing my best work.
I encourage you to do your own time tracking experiment for 30 days. You can use the categories I shared above, or create your own which are aligned to the select things that are highly important to you. Track your time every day and at the end of 30 days reflect on which were your best days, then make it a point to have more days like that in the future.
Portions of this section first appeared in this post: The Year I Was Quiet – Sharman Ghio – My Quest for Work I Love
Service through Karma Leadership
In my opinion the words leader and leadership in general have become synonymous with a person who is in a position of power. My belief however is centered on the belief that the core elements of leadership should be care and service and this has led me to create the Karma Leadership philosophy.
I’m inspired by this illuminated view of Karma from The Bhagavad Gita, which is considered among the greatest spiritual books the world has ever known:
The law of Karma explains that every event is both cause and effect, both physical and mental. Consider Karma an educative force whose purpose is to teach the individual to act in harmony with Dharma (the essence of a thing) and not to pursue selfish interests at the expense of others, but to contribute to life and consider the welfare of the whole.
In My Path to Karma Leadership I described the four paths of yoga, of which Karma Yoga is defined as the path of selfless action. In a society that rewards action over inaction what does selfless action mean and how do you embody it? It’s a great question and one that gets to the heart of what I believe causes a lot of pain in our world – the feeling of separateness; a sense that you are fundamentally alone and therefore you must fend for yourself by functioning from a scarcity mindset (I only have myself to rely on) rather than one of abundance (I am supported and loved).
Returning again to the wisdom of The Gita, two fundamental pillars arise from which to anchor Karma Leadership in selfless action: Oneness and Detachment. Oneness is the knowledge that everything in nature (yes, including humans) is connected. This passage was an ah-ha moment for me on this topic:
As akasha pervades the cosmos but remains unstained, the Self can never be tainted though it dwells in every creature. (13:32)
Akasha is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as “ether” and with the root word, kas, meaning “to be visible,” “sky,“ “atmosphere” or “open space.” Some people consider akasha the earth’s most subtle fifth element, rounding out earth, air, fire, and water. I’ve come to consider it the universal oneness and put into a practice of creating akasha – the space to see and be seen by all.
A scientific view also provides perspective on how we are all connected. The Big Bang theory concludes that the universe as we know it today began with a tremendous release of energy (hence, the name Big Bang), and so according to quantum physics the universe is composed of energy. Taking this a bit further, if you consider that quantum entanglement enables particles to affect each other instantaneously across any distance, then entangled particles would remain connected even if they were on opposite sides of the Universe. Albert Einstein warily described quantum entanglement as “spooky action at a distance”, however, physicists have demonstrated the reality of spooky action over great distances—even from Earth to a satellite in space.
The second pillar, detachment, is achieved through unshakable equanimity, a profound peace of mind. It’s the ability to maintain evenness of the mind whether experiencing pain or pleasure, success or failure. Those who practice detachment will be more effective in the realm of action in that their judgement will be better and their vision clear if they are not emotionally entangled in the outcome of what they do. It’s important however to not confuse detachment with indifference, because detachment does not mean that you don’t care about an outcome.
In business there tends to be a tremendous focus on outcomes and many of us are frequently asked to state the ‘expected outcomes’ of a project program, etc. This is certainly a valid method for anticipating return on investment, or other success measurements, however being attached to outcomes in a fixed manner will only cause suffering when inevitably things go wrong or change. Adopting the mindset of it’s the journey, not the destination is a way to practice detachment and will allow you to focus on the present rather than obsess about the future.
Through Karma Leadership I practice being the leader I want to have, and by doing so I’ve strengthened my resolve to keep showing up every day – purposefully, honestly, and in service to those around me. I encourage you to think about how you want to show up in the world and consider how the concepts of oneness and detachment can help you practice selfless action.
Chart Your Path
Five years ago I did a writing exercise called the Ten Year Plan and it was so impactful that I thought it was important to share a brief overview. The exercise includes visualizing a day exactly ten years in the future and writing down everything you see, feel, smell, touch, and experience on this day from the moment you wake until going to sleep. Write about in detail where you live, what your house looks like, if you are in a relationship, what your job is, describe family and community around you, your clothing, hobbies, include every detail. Dedicate uninterrupted time in a quiet place to write until it feels complete.
Next, think about how you are intentionally marching towards this future vision. Are you tracking your time in a way that corresponds to this quality of life you aspire to have? Do you see a path forward in your career that aligns with your values and vision?
Taking a cue from Cal Newport again, from So Good They Can’t Ignore You, let’s explore the power of building career capital towards your calling in life, undoubtedly an important part of achieving your life vision (unless of course you visualized winning big in the Lotto). Starting with the definition of a craftsman mindset which focuses on what you can offer the world with a relentless focus on what you produce.
The Career Capital Theory of Great Work
- The traits that define great work are rare and valuable.
- Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital.
- The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset if your goal is to create work you love.
Regardless of how you feel about your job right now, adopting the craftsman mindset will be the foundation by which you’ll build a compelling career, with the following caveat:
Three Disqualifiers for Applying the Craftsman Mindset
- The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable.
- The job focusing on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world.
- The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.
It’s never too early or too late to begin building career capital. The process will help you develop unique skills and qualities that will be a competitive advantage in your quest for deep meaningful work. If this section ignites your curiosity, you should pause reading right now, buy the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and then begin writing your ten year plan.
Work I Love: Defined
Through writing this I’ve been able to develop my personal definition for work I love: a deeply satisfying career that is fueled by innovation and contributing to a bold mission.
It has enabled me to articulate my calling as leading the movement of empowering people to create work they love; a deeply satisfying career that is aligned to an individual’s unique talents and purpose.
My hope is that by sharing my journey it will spark curiosity within others and that together we can explore the path towards our callings. It truly is the journey – not the destination – that matters. Let’s venture on a True North journey together. You may just find what you are looking for, and possibly even far more than you have imagined.