We all know the cliche that we should find our purpose and that what we are passionate about is our purpose.
Is your work your purpose?
I would say my work had become my identity. I identified who I am as what I “do” for a living. Self-help and spiritual author Wayne Dwyer taught me many years ago that our small selves define us in three ways;
- What we do (for a living)
- What we have
- What people think of us
For over 30 years, my identity of what I am, being what I do, had me being an employee:
- First, nine years working at a not-for-profit.
- Then a small IT consulting company, after a few years as an employee, bought company stock to become a 7% owner of the company, for a total of seven years.
- After that, I had two positions at a Fortune 100 company for a total stay of 15 years.
- Over one year into Corporate America, I founded Optimus One, LLC to support past IT consultant company clients during nights, weekends, vacation days, and personal days.
- Then lastly, back at a not-for-profit. This time in a K-12 public education cooperative as an executive leader of two technical teams, for just over one year.
My higher education took place while also working full time, over nine years, working nights and weekends toward my Computer Information Systems Bachelor of Science Degree. Nine years after I graduated, I must have gotten bored with my nights and weekends being taken up only by my side business supporting a half dozen company’s computer networks. I decided to use my nights and weekends to work toward a master’s in Business Administration (MBA). The focus of the MBA was on shifting companies away from shareholder primacy as its core purpose to one that also strives to include the importance of social, environmental, and governance value to round out the total value and meaning of the business.
The last two employee positions I had were both eliminated. The first was because of a merger that moved all of the operations roles to Connecticut. The second and final position as an employee was eliminated because of new leadership coming in that wanted a different direction than the one I was providing. I found myself in a later-in-life mid-life crisis. After a few months of attempting to remain an employee in another role at some other organization, COVID locks down the world, and an existential crisis emerges.
Do I stay an employee supporting someone else?
Or do I serve others who share my values and the value I can provide them as a coach/consultant?
All of 2020 was a back and forth with this question.
What I didn’t listen to for most of 2020 was the metaphorical 2×4 smacking me across the face after each “job” I interviewed for ended up not being a fit from the potential employer’s perspective. That certainly does not help someone defined by what they do. Six times I went back to the drawing board. Each time the Universe told me, “you are not an employee; stop trying.” In between these experiences (hardly failures at all but that was not what I was telling myself in those moments), I would point my feet into self-employment. When traction emerged, another employment opportunity from my network would emerge. Rinse, repeat for an entire year.
As with many people who lived through COVID, I also used this period to be introspective. The results of this personal inquiry into career experience exposed two specific attributes of what I stand for:
An experiment unfolded as an inquiry into personal assessment and growth. The result of this inquiry shifted who I am to include my core personal attributes that define purpose and value inherent in me as a business professional, regardless of any role or title bestowed upon me from an employer. Now, I provide this intrinsic value to other business owners and leaders as a self-employed coach/consultant. As an entrepreneur in my business, I act as an Intrapreneur in other companies.
Betterment. Every role in every organization I had the honor to serve allowed me to embark on bettering myself and those I engaged with around me. It’s the idea of the journey. You may arrive at a destination of success. Like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the journey never ends. You arrive only to need to travel somewhere else—a continued journey of success and failure (which is learning from mistakes) to arrive at future achievement.
Betterment for clients takes the form of shifting past the ongoing issues and challenges that keep owners and their companies stuck in the current paradigm. An outside perspective that includes highly tuned complex problem-solving skills that looks past the symptoms and hones in on:
- Patterns and trends over time that expose root cause
- Exposing the design of the system/process as root cause
- Assumptions, attitudes, and perspectives within the organization about the system that are unspoken but gravitational forces creating the root causes above
At this deep level, one will hear, “But we’ve always done it this way.”
Intrapreneurship. This one only got me in trouble in Corporate America. An entrepreneur is someone in their own company bringing people and resources together to build a company. An intrapreneur is an entrepreneur inside a company looking beyond their role and responsibility to solve problems, cross-collaborate, and align cross-functional self-interest for customer gain. In my case, it was noticing gaps that impacted customer satisfaction in no small way. Every role I fulfilled in every organization I worked for had this attribute about it.
In Corporate America, my boss disliked the added value I provided within my role. My boss told me to stop doing all of the other things every past employer recognized me for doing on my own accord. All of which produced value for all parties involved. Including our customers. An expectation that I stop doing all of it. It was “not my job.”
I don’t look at my employee role as a “job.” What I am responsible for in my position is to achieve what leadership expects, plus betterment and intrapreneurship. The plus part is to add value for those I serve, the company, and its internal and external customers. It directly relates to being an engaged employee. Over 90% of the time during my tenure, I represented one of the three in ten engaged in their “work.” That is how I defined myself in the definition of “what I do.” At its core, it is about “the why” and “the how” behind “the what” of my job responsibilities.
Optimus One, LLC, was started in the parking lot after the breakfast meeting, where my boss said stop producing the added value I was creating. I didn’t know how to stop the betterment and the intrapreneurship. Nor did I want to.
Now, as a Corporate Refugee, I commit my profession to clients as an Intrapreneur on their behalf. As an owner of a 17 years old startup, I can dedicate who I am to produce value for small and medium-sized businesses who know there is a better way to get past their problems and issues that hold them back from thriving at the level they know they can.