Joe Would Approve…Leaning Into Meaningful Work

It’s been almost two years since my mother woke one morning to find her husband Joe had died of a massive and unexpected heart attack during the night. 

He had come late into her life —  several years after she had courageously left an unhappy marriage to my father three years shy of their golden anniversary. Mom and her nine years younger Joe had what my cougar mother still refers to as 12 blissful years together.

While Joe had been a high school shop teacher who had never exhibited any kind of entrepreneurial drive himself, he was supportive of those who did, even loaning one of his sons funding to establish a hazardous waste disposal company.

He was interested in the work I did in community building and community leadership but continually took jabs at me, suggesting that if I was going to work as hard as I did, I should be working for myself instead of for people who didn’t always appreciate what I did, or how well I did it.

Lacking the confidence to think people would be willing to pay for my work, as well as being hesitant about making the leap from steady paycheque to the uncertainty of my own company, I never really took his advice to heart.

I have though thought of him a great deal recently as circumstances over the last several years have resulted in me joining the steadily increasing number of self-employed women in Canada as I developed an online Campus for Communities.

According to Industry Canada, there were 950,000 self employed women in Canada in 2011 - the latest available data. That is a 23 percent increase in the number from a decade before.

Of course starting a new business isn’t the only way of adding the excitement and purpose to one’s professional career that so many of us are seeking.

One recent study determined that only 43 percent of Canadian women (51 percent of men) are working at their dream job.

While some may find themselves needing to move toward meaningful work in a gradual and incremental way, others like me may find it to be a bit more dramatic and needs-driven. Regardless, there is a path for each of us that will be determined by our individual circumstances.

Jim Collins has refined a simple and profound set of three questions that he calls the “Hedgehog Concept” for those who need help.

The essence of the Hedgehog Concept is to attain clarity about how to produce the best long-term results in your life. It’s based on Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox” where, based on an ancient Greek fable, he divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes.

The message is that the fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

The concept is brilliant in its simplicity in that it is about you answering three questions. He suggests you use one sheet of paper for each question and initially address the three independently.

The first question is, “What am I deeply passionate about?” Think about what it is you love to do.

The second is “What am I genetically wired to do”? In other words, what are you good at? What fits your psychological makeup and capabilities? It’s also what you think you may have been put on this earth to do.

The third question is “What are the possibilities for making a living?” Of course, this one will be much easier if finances aren’t an issue for you. 

Once you have answered the three questions, the idea is to find or create a practical intersection of the three circles to determine what you can be the best at doing.

It may be that you won’t be able to come up with that intersection on your own. If so, give copies to others who know you well to get their perspective on where the three circles intersect.

Once you sort out the intersect it can become a filter or compass for navigating your life and keeping you on track.

Ultimately though, finding work that brings you joy is as much about having the courage to lean in to the new year committed to making changes. It may also mean some pain as it will be important to discard what doesn’t fit and cut out parts of your life that may have already cost days or even years of effort.

Is it worth it to leap and lean in to finding meaningful work?

My experience would suggest the answer is a resounding yes. While I have never put in so many hours or worked harder in my life, I can also say I’m doing well financially and I’ve never been happier in my life.

I think Joe would approve.   

Posted on 12-30-13

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