For years, I felt I had a devil one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil whispers, “Make as much money as you can!” While on the other shoulder, the do-gooder persistent angel keeps reminding me, “You’re here to make a difference in the world.”
I’m not alone. Our innately human desire to have a positive impact on the world and our equally real drive to advance our economic interests creates a push pull relationship for many of us.
Whenever I talk about purpose and meaning in the workplace, someone will inevitably come up to me afterwards, and say, “ I wish I had more meaningful work. Sometimes I think I should quit my job and join the Peace Corp, work for my church, feed the poor or some version of ‘I should be doing a selfless low pay job.’
Far be it from me to dissuade a potential Peace Corp recruit. But I will tell you, meaning and purpose are more available inside commercial entities than we often realize.
I’ve spent the better part of two decades trying to reconcile my financial ambitions with my do-gooder spirit. I’ve come to realize, it’s not a battle between love and money. The metaphorical devil and angel is a false dichotomy.
As humans, we’re hardwired to want to have a positive impact on others. This impulse transcends age, race, sex, culture and economic status. We’re also hardwired to want to provide for ourselves and our families. I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I’m not in favor of greed, or unfettered unregulated robber barons. I do believe the ability to take control of your own economic destiny is exciting and empowering.
The world divides doing good and making money into two distinct buckets, but in the cadence of our actual lives, they don’t separate so neatly.
A client of mine, a division President for a major company once said to me, “I’m doing the transactional work so my spouse can do more important work, she’s a preschool teacher.”
Molding the minds of two year-olds is crucial. And so is being the boss of 1500 people! If you’re in any kind of leadership role, you have a profound impact on those in your care. It’s easy to discount commercial entities as purely transactional. Yet every organization is made of real live people, people whose lives are made better or worse by the way they experience their job.
If you’re looking for more purpose and meaning in your own work, there are two places you can find it:
1. What you do
If your company develops software, provides accounting, manufactures trucks, or anything else that people are willing to pay for, chances are, you’re already doing something that adds value.
2. How you do it
This is where the real joy sits. The way you interact with others affects their lives and yours. When you invest in creating more meaning, you speak more thoughtfully; you make more eye contact; you’re more intentional about your impact.Choosing to infuse meaning in your work improves your joy quotient, and not coincidentally, it also improves your results.
The desire for love and the quest for money are not divergent paths. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money, and you don’t have to ignore your do-gooder angel to do it.