There are two kinds of work. The first kind of work is contributing to someone else’s dream or endeavor. At the end of the day you’re building something for someone else. It may not be your favorite thing to do, but you do it. You show up and you agonize through it. Most people do this.
There’s another kind of work. It’s a form of work where you’re contributing to your dream and what you’re passionate about. This kind of work has the following characteristics:
- When you do it you’re good at it
- It fulfills something deep within you and your satisfied by it
- You can’t wait to get to work in the morning
- It’s still hard but it’s a good kind of hard
- Your unique contribution to the world is your unique gift and people are willing to buy it or contribute to it
What kind of work are you meant for?
Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, uses a simple analogy to compare the first type of work to the second. On a trip to Africa, Mr. Graham saw a lot of animals in the wild that he’d previously only seen in zoos. He noted how remarkably different the animals acted compared to the ones in the zoo. Animals in the wild seemed about ten times more alive.
Having consulted with hundreds of startup founders, Mr. Graham couldn’t help but draw the comparison between animals in the wild and entrepreneurs. He suspected that working for oneself feels better to humans in much the same way that living in the wild must feel to wide-ranging animals in Africa. Life in a zoo is easier, but it isn’t the life the animals were designed for.
For those of us who have felt trapped in a corporate job, maybe we felt that way because we weren’t designed for that kind of work in the first place.
How do you find the second kind of work?
You don’t! It finds you.
And I think the answer lies in your personal history. For example, I love helping, teaching, learning, educating and creating unique experiences. If I look back in my history, it was easy to see that I did all of these things repetitively and naturally.
In grade school I loved to create by drawing. I would draw for fun and I found tremendous pride in drawing for other students. At one point, many of my best drawings were showcased in the school display case near the entrance. This seemed to legitimize my brief stint as an artist. Upon seeing my work in the school display case, kids came out of nowhere to ask for personalized drawings. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had become the young Rembrandt of Greenwood Elementary School!
This theme continued through grade school with ongoing craft projects that I would create and sell to fellow students. Fast forward to college and I had placed myself in the center of organizing special events for the College of Business.
I would organize forums to bring successful entrepreneurs to campus to share their secrets and stories with fellow students. In addition, I would organize informal trips to Portland where small groups of students would spend the day shadowing executives at exciting companies like Nike, Wieden & Kennedy and the Portland Trail Blazers.
And now, I'm back to doing the work I love. I'm helping others navigate their career paths to find their most meaningful work. I'm learning while educating others through my weekly podcast interviewing game changing entrepreneurs. And I'm creating programs and content to help guide others towards more meaning + money.
The work you love is most likely hiding in plain sight. Take a look at what you did for fun when you were younger. What did you enjoy most? What came naturally to you? What themes kept repeating? Answering these simple questions might hold the key to finding the work that you’re meant to be doing.
And the great news is that you don't have to risk everything to start exploring meaningful work. There is a way to flex your entrepreneurial muscles while still being practical and not exposing yourself to huge risks. If you're interested in exploring a more meaningful existence while keeping your current career intact, I'll be leading a small group of people through a 6-week beta program after the first of the year.
Just email me and request details about the program.
Question: What were your answers to the question above? What did you enjoy most when you were younger? What came naturally to you? What themes kept repeating? Share in the comments below.