From Nine-to-five

A couple of weeks ago, the billboard in the building in front of my apartment was replaced.

This message is the first thing I see in the morning. Every day. It reminds me why I do what I do, why I am where I am and why I am going where I am going. In other words, it serves me as a friendly reminder of my purpose in life: make it matter. Unfortunately, not everyone has something (or someone) to remind them first-thing-in-the-morning why they are awake and why they are going to their nine-to-five jobs instead of staying comfortably in bed.

I understand that for many – perhaps the vast majority – money and opportunities for professional development are more than enough motivation. In fact, organizational psychology studies (more often than not) conclude that employers should appeal to workers’ more obvious forms of self-interest: financial incentives, interesting tasks and possibilities for career advancement. However, in my humble opinion, they have failed to see that great people are more compelled by a greater purpose than by making money.

Now, I am not saying that money is not important. Everyone – even extraordinary people – has needs that can only be met if we have money on our bank account (or under our mattress): dressing, eating and traveling – to say the least. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that now more than ever extraordinary and talented people are less worried about money and more worried about the impact of their work. The most amazing individuals I have met want to help others and to change organizations, society and the world.

So, here’s the interesting part. Who is responsible of creating high-impact jobs, jobs with purpose, jobs that matter? The answer is easy: each one of us. Surely this is not the answer you expected, but let me walk you through it.

I made a quick experiment that basically consisted in asking my friends ‘What do you do from nine-to-five?’. The answers I got were very diverse and some of them even made me laugh. Here are two examples:

Friend #1: ‘I am on top of people all day long, I upload and download trucks and answer emails all day to let everyone know who is the boss because I am the one that moves the product.’

Friend #2: ‘I work for a financial institution and, basically, I code all day to create a robot able to read across database records.’

I chose these examples because these individuals spend their days talking about how badly they want to change the world, have thought about quitting their job more than once and believe that what they do from-nine-to-five is worthless and lacks a purpose… And both of them are wrong. Many of us fail to see the impact of our actions because we get lost in the routine. I know because I have been there. However, most of us have iimpactful nine-to-five jobs. Generally, more impactful than what we believe or are capable of distinguishing.

Take, for example, Friend #1. He works at a global company that generates over 400 thousand employments and operates in 192 countries around the world. He certainly does not appreciate the impact of his work nor he realizes the potential to generate change within the company. His answer could have been: “I make sure that all the shipments depart on time so the company can keep creating the jobs that allow 400 individuals in my plant to financially support their families.”

Moreover, Friend #2 works for a financial institution with an impressive global footprint. He sits besides me at the office and every day I see him work unsparingly to make his robot more efficient. In addition, I see the way in which his job makes him feel frustrated and bored, but I am certain that this would be different if he could defined what he does as: “Building a robot that will boost financial inclusion in Mexico by providing millions of low-income Mexicans access to mobile bank accounts.”

I know it sounds romantic, but if my friends re-define their job and link it to a purpose, they will be happier and much more productive. If you don’t believe what I am saying, I recommend you to read the new book from Adam Grant – one of the most prolific professors at the Wharton School of Business and leading expert on success, work motivation and helping & giving behaviors.

Grant states that the greatest untapped source of motivation is a sense of service to others. He did one of the experiments that placed him in the spotlight when he was an undergraduate at Harvard and was selling advertisements for a travel guide series called “Let’s Go”. Grant confesses he was a pushover and lost revenues for the company, until he met another undergraduate whose job at “Let’s Go” was helping her pay her way through college. Suddenly, the impact of his role became clear to him: without advertising revenues, the company could not make money, which in turn meant it couldn’t provide jobs to students who needed them. Once he understood this, he was willing to make a harder sell, to take a tougher line on negotiations.

I also recommend you to watch Shawn Actor’s Ted Talk, on which he explains that happiness comes before productivity not only in the dictionary.

I am a hundred percent sure that re-defining your job will make you happier.

Nowadays, no one should be working on something they are not passionate about. However, we should not confuse ‘I do not like doing this’ with ‘my job has no impact’. To solve the latter it is enough to take a step back and reflect on who are you helping with whatever it is you do from nine-to-five. On the other hand, to solve the first one you need to get a new job and there are plenty of resources out there that can help you find a job that matters. (If you live in the US, explore ReWork – an online platform that helps professionals align their occupation with an inspiring mission, turning their careers into a powerful force for good.). Do you see the difference?

It is up to us, to my friends and to you to have a job with purpose and make things that matter. As my personal idol Hugh says, everyone can do what you do – even better and faster – but not everyone is going to care about the things that really matter as much as you do. Several months ago someone asked me about what I do from nine-to-five and my answer was: ‘I change the world.’ He laughed and told me that I just make superb presentations and perfectly-written two-pagers. And just for the record, I have proved him wrong.

What about you, what do you do from nine-to-five?

F.

Follow Fulvia Morales on Twitter @fulviamorales and share your thoughts, comments and feedback.

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