I read an inspiring article this morning. It will probably be perceived by most of you as cynical, and even depressing, as it highlights the tradeoff many of us have to make between meaning and money in pursuing our careers. The author accuses the money-choosers as those who have settled into mind-numbing, soul-sucking jobs lacking true significance and purpose. He accuses the meaning-choosers of falling well short of what they deserve and not living up to their potential. He describes your everyday employee as someone who blindly follows the status quo and sells his soul working for “the man” and in so doing, undermines his own potential.
Yes, it’s a tad pessimistic. OK, it is a lot pessimistic. But, in a roundabout way, it’s inspiring.
It challenges us to think about the tradeoff between money and meaning in our careers. It makes us think about the ever-present disparity in salaries in our society, but also hopefully gets us collectively thinking about what we can do about these types of imbalances. And it reminds us not to settle on anything less than what we envisioned during our optimistic youth.
The author’s request of us is simple: don’t trade meaning for money. Even if you consider yourself in the struggling teacher camp, keep at it, and be proud of the meaning you’re contributing to your students’ lives. Here are a few nuggets of positive, real-life career advice from this article aimed at different career/life stages:
You’re 25. You’re finally offered a job at the corporobotic blue-chip institution your less interesting acquaintances have always dreamt of working at. Turn it down. Start the next Kickstarter instead.
You’re 35. You’re finally offered the big jump to VP. Take it — and then damn your first year’s bonus, make your first major project redesigning a product line that matters.
You’re 45. You’re sidelined. Quit. Start something that makes you feel something again.
You’re 55. You’re fired. Don’t panic. Use your wisdom; mentor, coach, teach, lead.
Let me put that even more simply. You’re going to need to apply not just the following professional skills — entrepreneurship; “networking,” pluck and drive, strategic thinking, leadership, branding and marketing — but also the following human capacities: a stubborn refusal to obey the dictates of the status quo, an unwavering empathy, a healthy disrespect for the naysayers, the humility of the servant and the pride of the master artisan, a persevering sense of grace, a heaping spoonful of that most dangerously unpredictable of substances, love, and, finally, the unflinching belief in a better tomorrow that those have always had who dust their saddles off, dig their spurs in, and forge ahead into the great unknown.
Now, I admit, this advice may not be practical for everyone. Some of us are just trying to hang on. But we can start adding meaning into our careers and career plans in small doses…here are a few suggestions.
- If you don’t like an idea, think of something better, and speak up.
- Change the “label” you’ve given someone.
- Trust someone with something you wouldn’t normally trust them with.
- Scrap a project altogether and start fresh on a creative whim.
- Before you judge someone, think about their backstory and what might be going on in their lives that you don’t know about. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Perfect opportunity to bring in a cute Mr. Rogers quote: There isn’t a person you couldn’t love if you know their story.
What are your ideas to inspire us and bring meaning to our careers?