What will you be when you grow up?

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“What will you do with your life?”, my careers counsellor asked. That is a tough question to ask a 16-year-old in high school. If I was being honest, “Chasing girls and unrealistic dreams”, might have been my answer at the time. In hindsight, my career never consisted of one job. So, it was a question I couldn’t realistically answer at the time.  

Knights of fast food

My first job was flipping hotcakes and cooking burgers at McDonald’s. I remember attending an awards gala where employees were called up on stage, one by one, to receive service awards. A gold pen for 5 years, a watch for 10… and so it went on.  

Perhaps not exactly a knighthood but in a similar way, staff were being recognised and appreciated for their loyal service. As a young man, I had similar jobs where employees were recognised for their service but at some point I noticed those rewards came to a screeching halt in many workplaces.

Becoming peasants

When did this happen? Someone put a stop to loyalty rewards at many of the companies I worked at since. Is it possible employers stopped seeing loyal workers as an asset and began to see them as a liability instead? I believe so.

I am not entirely sure when or why; but I know the world has changed. Hyper-competitiveness and globalisation have forced companies to react to market changes quickly. Sadly, the fastest way to save money is to cut staff levels.

RIP full time work

Currently we are experiencing a pandemic, resulting in massive job losses. Therefore, many people find themselves at a crossroads again because they are out of work, are working less hours or not where they want to be.

Whether you are seeking full time work, freelance work or starting your own business -it is worth taking the time to ask yourself the question, “What will I do?” Perhaps you will work part time, while you freelance in another field. You could start your own side or full-time business. Maybe, if you are in the right place, at the right time, you will find the perfect job that meets your needs.

Follow your heart

Some people say follow your heart to find what you should do. Well, that’s good advice, sort of. For those familiar with motivational theories, you might understand survival comes first… and matters of the heart sometime after that. Sure, if you were rich, you could probably do whatever you want right now.

For everyone else, sometimes you must do what you need to, to get what you want. In Australia, people often ask at social events, “What do you do for a crust?” We acknowledge you need to work to pay the bills first.

Motivation matters

When we call someone a “lazy bum” in Australia, we are referring to an unmotivated person. I believe that is one of the biggest mistakes we make when we try to understand motivation. What motivates one person, might not motivate another. So, labelling someone as unmotivated is unfair.

Indeed, we have all had times when we lack energy. Naturally, we wonder if that means we are unmotivated as a rule or unmotivated by our current circumstances. In most cases, I believe it is the latter.

Since I began my career, I have experienced my own tug of war between passion and profit. If you are like me, you may ask yourself, “Should I do what pays the bills or should I do what I love?” Through wider reading, study, observation and self-reflection, I learned (for me at least) it is a little of both.

How can you decide what to do?

I believe what you do comes down to the intersection of 3 main decisions: passion, ability and reward.

Passion

Everyone I have ever encountered, who is great at what they do, loves what they do. You might appreciate that if you already excel in something. Passion will be the driving force that gets you up in the morning and pushes you to do the work you need to, to get where you want to. You must be excited to get up and get stuck in every day because at some point things will be difficult and you need to push through it.

Ability

Do you have the skill and ability to perform this work? You may not be perfect but at least you need to have the potential to become great at what you do.

Who and what do you need access to, so you can be effective at what you do? In today’s world, you need to be resourceful to succeed. You could be the world’s best tennis player but unless you can access a tennis ball, racket and court, you’re going to have a tough time playing to the best of your ability. Ask yourself honestly, do you have access to what you need? Or can you get it?

Reward

Previously I mentioned survival, which is the first part of reward. What you do needs to be valued by someone enough, so you are paid for your work. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else. So, even in selfless work, someone needs to pay the bills.

Reward may also come in other forms like achievement, recognition, belonging or self-esteem rewards. Although you cannot replace money or your survival needs with any of these, you might be willing to accept less money in return for other rewards.

On my last point, consider the rewards Mother Theresa got from a lifetime of service to poor and under privileged communities. Financial rewards probably did not feature high on her agenda, however, she needed to raise funds to support her cause. While income may not have been the driver, it certainly empowered Mother Theresa to fulfil her purpose.

How do you work this out?

  1. Write a list of subjects you are most passionate about or that excite you
  2. List things you are uniquely gifted or skilled at and can perform at a high level
  3. Detail the rewards you would love to have from your next role; financial and non-financial
  4. Draw a link between related items on your passion, ability and reward lists
  5. Research your target market to determine viability (if you are starting your own business)

Far too many people skip step number 5, which is a mistake. When you go into business for yourself, you need to know your business, your competition, your target market, your strengths and weaknesses. Above all, you need to know if your ability is in demand and your target market are willing and able to pay for it.

What is your highest point of contribution?  

Greg McKeown asked the most fitting question in his book, Essentialism. What is your highest point of contribution? In other words, what is the right thing for you to do? What is the right reason for you to do it? When is the right time for you to do it?

When you are highly valued by a client or employer, you will be paid well. Value what you do and you will feel good about it. Value your own knowledge and skills and you will continue to have the hunger, and drive you need to be great at what you do.

What are you willing to go through?

Pain is essential in life. For a goal to be worth achieving, there must be a struggle. Mark Manson, suggested in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@*!, you need to decide which pain you are willing to accept in pursuit of your goals.  

Successful investor and author, Ray Dalio, writes about first, second and third order consequences of pursuing a goal in his book, Principles (Dalio p.155). He makes the valid point that people often focus on pain or pleasure associated with first order consequences, rather than the second. For example, some people avoid exercise because they’re focused on the pain of working out, rather than the pleasures of being fit and healthy.

Both writers raise some great points. So, do not only decide what you want… but be clear with yourself about what you are willing to go through to get it. Choose your business or career based on what you are prepared to do on your worst days.

When I grow up

When you were a child, people asked “What will you be?”. Later in life, when you changed jobs, that question would change to, “What will you do?”. Albeit a subtle difference, I believe we need to change back to the original question. What you do is one thing. “Who you are” is most important because that is what you need to be proud of. So, what will you be?

Following your heart is a great starting point but you need to go further if you want to earn a living or, “Bring home the bacon” (sorry -another Aussie saying). You need to become crystal clear about what you do, why you do it, who you do it for and what problem you solve for them. Anything less than that is not a strong business or freelancing opportunity.

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