This I Believe was one of my favorite NPR programs. It's raison d'être: "Americans from all walks of life share the personal philosophies and core values that guide their daily lives."
In honor of that spirit, I'll take a step away from our mutual obsession with marketing and analytics and share with you the philosophies and values that guide me when I go to work every day.
My professional career spans three countries: India, Saudi Arabia and the United States. It spans factory work, market research, logistics, automotive, super-computers, broadband, financial services and … I'm not sure how to describe Google, but Google. I’ve contributed at the junior, senior, and mid-level, been a project manager, business analyst, manager, director, and … I'm not quite sure how to describe it, but an evangelist. My career spans customer service, engineering, finance, product development, marketing, sales, and corporate functions. On any given day, I'm working in my office, in a conference room brainstorming new revolutions, standing up on stage to inspire my peer professionals, sitting on a 21st floor board room in London, New York, Beijing or Santiago trying to change complicated businesses, sitting at my desk at home creating ravishing educational videos for Market Motive or writing this post.
None of that is to impress you, I just want to give you a little bit of context about where this post originates.
Going through all of the above, I've developed an overall macro-philosophy that guides my career choices. I've also collected a cluster of personal philosophies and core values that guide my day-to-day work.
My hope is that you'll find my lessons to be of value as you think about your own professional career, both from a macro context, in terms of what you are solving for, and in a micro context, in your day-to-day work.
Let's dive in!
This I Believe: Balance: Passion +/- Money +/- Work
There are three forces in play in our lives when it comes to our professions:
First, there is your passion. Generally speaking, our skills are a collection of things we are good at, and within that collection there is usually one thing about which we are deeply passionate. Discovering your passion is not easy. It took me more than a decade of working to discover what I was passionate about. And that decade-plus of seeking came after decades of learning, living, and all that. It is not trivial to figure out what you are passionate about. You'll know you've identified it when you discover the thing that makes you mad with joy and fulfills you like nothing else in the universe. Then you'll recognize: "I'm good at x, y, z, but I'm passionate about q."
Next, there are the skills that companies value and will pay for.
Finally there is a thing, or a collection of things, that you do as a part of your professional career.
You have to juggle these three distinct elements in your career/work.
Companies often want to pay you for what you are good at, but what do you do if what you are good at is not the same as what you are passionate about?
The standard answer you'll get from most people is that you should find a way to monetize what you are passionate about. Life is too short! (By the end of this section of the post, I'll tell you that exact thing.)
But in isolation, this advice does not accommodate for the reality that surrounds us. What if no one wants to pay you to do the thing about which you are passionate? Then what do you do? Still do what you are passionate about, because it makes you happy? That is, after all, what everyone will advise you to do.
Here's a simple Venn diagram that illustrates what happens in this scenario:
It is less than fun to just do what you are passionate about, if no one wants to pay you for it. It leads to poverty. This is really sad.
If you have time and some savings on your side, give the above strategy your best shot for as long as you can. But leave open the possibility that if you can't make it work, there is no shame in giving up – at least for a time. I know that seems like a heartbreakingly cruel thing to say. Still, look at the above diagram. Is poverty OK? Usually, in the real world, it might not be.
Remember, a time of poverty is good. I've had a bunch of it. Builds character. But you need to grow up.
So, what is a better option at the intersection of passion, work and money?
Many of our peers on this planet are most likely living a professional life best represented by this Venn diagram:
They get to do some of what they are passionate about at work. They have to do some things that they are ambivalent about and some things they are not passionate about because these are things/skills the company values.
It is a compromise. Depending on the day, you might be slightly depressed to quietly euphoric.
Not every job is like this.
Sometimes the overlap between green and orange is huge, and it has very little blue. If you find yourself in that position, keep working and making money and taking care of your life responsibilities; however, it might be time to quietly look for a different job inside or outside the company.
If, upon self-reflection, all you see in your profile is green and orange, it might be time to try a lot of different things, make leaps of faith, explore shops/jobs/cities/lives/newspapers/friends/strangers/internships/school courses/Googling to figure out what your blue is all about. (As I mentioned, this took me more than a decade and during most of that time I did not even know I did not have a blue! I was just working hard at things I was good at and for which I was paid well.)
If your Venn diagram looks exactly like the one above, with a large blue (passion) not at work, find avenues outside work that allow you to do what you are passionate about. With the web, there are so many avenues to express your passion. Find an outlet to build your own passion platform. (This blog started exactly as that for me. And since 14th of May 2006 , this has been my safe harbor, my warm place, and my escape when work was all green and orange.)
So what's the ideal state?
It might seem difficult to believe this, but I have had the privilege of meeting a handful of people for whom the Venn diagram perfectly overlaps:
I call these people lucky dogs! I sit at their feet and learn how they figured out the blue and found the orange that so perfectly overlaps with the green. A majority of these people, in my experience, are entrepreneurs. But that is not the only path to nirvana. There are other opportunities, no matter how few, where people find a perfect overlap between passion, work, pay.
Like most people in the world, I'm not in the nirvana scenario.
I'm deep into my professional career at this point. I feel incredibly blessed/lucky that when I draw my own Venn diagram it looks like this, for now:
Most of the time I get to do what I'm really passionate about (and get paid for it, OMG!). Some of the time I have to work on things I'm good at, but not necessarily passionate about. But that is quite okay. I'm grateful for the opportunity I have. And, as I mentioned above, I've worked hard to create a collection of platforms — this blog, my Google+ outpost , my new LinkedIn influencer channel, my start-up Market Motive — where I can do all the blue things that I can't do at work.
I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be able to monetize a bunch of my blue at work, and give rest of the blue away for free in non-work existences. It makes me incredibly happy.
I'm sure as my career evolves, as is the case for everyone, the circles might drift apart or become more overlapping. As long as I know what each bucket contains, I'll be fine because I'll make deliberate choices.
My call to arms for you: Find your blue . It is a bigger challenge than you might imagine. Then, work as hard as you can to find the most overlapping orange for your blue. And because life is more than just work, remember to leave lots of green for your family.
Nirvana would be fantastic, if you can find it. Until then, start with the happy compromise, and aim to get as close to nirvana as you can. And remember, your employer (even if you are self-employed) does not owe you anything and definitely does not owe you a job where you can express your deep passions. The cool thing is that with the web, you have a ton more possibilities to find other avenues to do what you are passionate about – either with other employers or by building your own platforms – while you are in a happy compromise scenario.
Go. Find your blue.
This I Believe: 12 Rules for a Magnificent Career.
Here are a dozen personal philosophies and core values that guide my day-to-day work. They are lessons learned, sometimes painfully, from practicing this career thing across three countries and a dozen different jobs!
1. If you don’t know where you are going, you are going to get somewhere and you’ll be miserable.
I don't believe in five-year plans or lifetime career plans; the world changes too quickly. But know your blue, and have a passion plan. Have an idea of what you love now, how you will stay in love with it, or how you'll find the next thing you'll love doing.
2. "If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging." -Will Rogers.
Too many meetings at work? Email inbox constantly stuffed? 16 straight quarters of missed bonuses? Difficult relationship with your peer/boss? Nothing seems to be going your way from a product/hiring/deadlines?
The first things to do is to stop digging. No, that not right. First learn to recognize that you are in a hole – it seems like common sense but this is so hard. Next, stop digging . Then, be honest with yourself, reflect on what's really causing these situations. Finally, look for different solutions and be brave and ask for help (from your friends and perceived non-friends).
It takes a very long time to get good at this — at least, it took me a very long time. But I'm a better person/employee/father/husband/friend for having learned to recognize when I'm in a hole and to stop digging!
3. The last people to get laid off in a company are the ones closest to creating revenue.
This might sound controversial to people in operations, support, corporate finance, analytics infrastructure and all the other teams that are critical to functioning of any company. When push comes to shove, they are the first to be laid off. I should know. I’ve been laid off twice, from SGI and DirecTV Broadband.
I've never made that mistake again. I pick roles as close to directly making actual money for the company as possible.
4. 70/30 people will rule the world . Spend 70% being spectacular at your core focus area (accountant, lawyer, perl programmer) and 30% being good at everything in the immediately adjacent areas (marketing, finance, digital, real estate).
The web has broken down traditional job silos in companies. The web demands immense agility and flexibility within every company. Those two things mean that being a one-trick pony limits your capacity to help your companies think smart and move fast.
Deliberately identify the areas immediately adjacent to your job and invest your own time and effort to build out your 30% (your company will not do this for you) skills.
5. This seems ironic, but the less you worry about your next promotion, the higher the chances are that you’ll get promoted.
Everyone wants more money, the next promotion at work. One way to get it is to focus everything you do on your next promotion by plotting strategy, "building network," creating "a bank of goodwill," stepping over those that need stepping over, and only taking shiny object projects. This does work. Even at Google, this strategy yields results. But often, this leaves a bad taste even in your own mouth and creates a bad vibe around you.
So my lesson is to focus on adding value. Take on tough projects. Solve meaty challenges. Do good work. It is almost guaranteed that you'll get promoted. But in the small chance that politics inside your company mean you are not, you'll still be able to look yourself in the eye every morning and smile – and the people around you at work will love you.
6. Solve for scale. Point solutions don’t scale, frameworks scale (and people are grateful you've taught them a different way to think).
The single biggest difference between good people and magnificent people is that good people work hard and solve problems, while magnificent people look for patterns, dig deep to identify root causes, and look for scalable answers. Often this means new processes, new frameworks and new structures that drive a new way of thinking across the organization. That is glorious impact. Solve for scale.
7. What’s your one thing? The thing you are better at than anyone else in the team/sector/company/world.
Now this one is hard. Especially if your blue is entirely separate from your professional career (which is all green and orange). But people who know the one thing that they are really, really good at — better than anyone else — stand out in any organization. The way to get there is to know your green and blue, and then invest your own time in constantly trying to get better.
Most people stop learning once they leave college. Don't do that. My personal goal is to spend four hours every single week learning something new – mostly in the blue area (which is easy) but also in the green area.
8. Self-awareness is the single biggest gift you can give yourself. Become a feedback junkie.
Will it surprise you if I guessed that you think very highly of yourself? No. Because it is true. :) And perhaps it is. But I've learned the value of self-awareness, knowing what you are really good at and what you are not good at. At regular intervals (weekly, monthly and quarterly) I ask for feedback from my peers, our leadership teams and complete outsiders.
Feedback allows me to see myself as others do (perception often matters more than reality). I use that feedback to find opportunities where I can amplify my strengths, and I use it to ensure that my weaknesses are not deal-breakers.
9. 99% of all arguments are based on a difference between what each person is solving for. First, get to a shared vision. Then disagree. Then get to the best solution.
It took me such a long time to learn this lesson. I'm embarrassed. In typical business situations you hear/see something and you are like "how can that be, that other person is such an idiot, how can they possibly have such insane opinions and make these crazy decisions, I must stop them/give them a piece of my mind!" Ok, I exaggerate a little. But you get my point. Off you go to argument land.
I've learned to stop myself. I find the person/leader/being and ask: "What are you solving for?" Then I outline what I'm solving for. Incredibly, it usually turns out that we are solving for different things. I learn (or they learn) that I have different context than they do. We both feel like such dolts. We then agree on what we should solve for. Now finding the optimal solution is simpler.
Before you argue about small or big things, ask the other party: "What are you solving for with your decision?"
10. Nice guys/girls might not always finish at the top, but in the long run jerks will always finish last. Karma.
I'll just leave it at that. Karma.
11. If you are a leader, remember it is never about you. It is always about the team and each person in it.
It is such a cliché. But it is so incredibly true. A superstar you working at max awesomeness can solve for a local maxima. If you work with your team of individuals and help figure out how to make the unit function at max awesomeness, you solve for a global maxima. And I mean team of individuals – because each one is unique – and not the generic "team."
Bonus: Also see #5 above.
12. At the end of the day always remember that it’s just a job. On their deathbed, no one wishes they'd spent more time at work.
That's it. My dozen personal philosophies and core values that guide my day-to-day work (and life).
If you would like you, you can download a summary version as a pdf: This I Believe – Career Edition.
As always, it is your turn now.
If you were to draw your passion-work-money Venn diagram, what would it look like? Do you know your blue (deep, unabiding passion)? If yes, how long did it take you to figure it out? If no, what are you doing to figure it out? Do you agree with my dozen philosophies and values? Got a favorite one? Or one you disagree with? Or, even better, a personal philosophy or value that you would add to my list?
Please share your perspectives, critique, life lessons, insights and what you believe in, via comments below.
PS: This is my second This I Believe post. In case you are curious, here's the first one: This I Believe: A Manifesto for Web Marketers & Analysts