You: Reinvented. Your Three Things
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am the crash-test dummy of careers. Waiter, CEO, nonprofit leader, salesman; teacher… My adult life has been rife not just with different jobs, but different careers. As long as I’m getting “my Three Things,” though, these various careers make sense – at least to me.
Believe it or not, any work, even the most personally satisfying, can get old if we don’t refresh and rejuvenate ourselves once in a while. At least, that’s my experience. I know some people are very happy doing the very same thing for forty years, but I’m not cut that way – and I know many of my readers aren’t, either.
- The best job I’ve ever had is teacher. I did it for nine years and loved every minute of it. Finally, though, I felt I’d learned all I had to learn about doing it well, so I stepped away from teaching – at least for now.
- I found a lot of challenge and reward being a small-business founder and CEO, but I burned myself out after four years – it stopped being fun, so I wound that career down over the next two years, and I moved on from that, too. I will likely run another company in the future, but I don’t miss it right now.
- Being a traveling speaker rocks – seriously, it’s like being a teacher, but on steroids. I’ve found that I need to intersperse the speaking with homebody time, though, so maybe 6 months to a year of travel at a time is enough for me. After a while, even being the expert from afar can turn into a grind if you aren’t careful.
I’ve been working with a success coach over the past 5-6 months, and one of the things we’re working on is: what do I want from my work, anyway? I think I’ve identified the three bedrock things I need to be happy in my work:
- Human interaction
I put human interaction first because I have never – literally, never! – had a job that wasn’t heavy on the human factor. I love people, interacting with them, working with them… we’re all social animals, and I’m certainly no exception. Please God, never put me in a quiet office and ask me to write code for you. I wouldn’t last a day!
Learning is also completely essential to me. Remember, I left teaching when I felt I had learned all I could. I learned how to build a successful business, then I left it when I realized to continue on would entail doing more of the same. Learning is much, much more important to me than wealth, recognition, or anything else that work could provide.
Indeed, learning can often be meaning for me. I’ve been in that situation before: not too enamored of my employer, but grinning and bearing it because I’m being paid to learn. Hey, some people pay for grad school; others get their (unofficial) advanced degrees through their work.
Meaning in its own right? We all crave meaning in our work. If our company stands for something important – life-changing diabetes treatment, green energy, customer delight; taking down the Goliath of our industry… something bigger than stock price – if we can find that meaning at work, many of us will feel fulfilled, and our employer will tap into our full talent, rather than just buying our time with a paycheck. Meaning at work is essential for me, and I believe I’m far from alone there.
Those are my three things. Give me these three and I’m happy. I’ll be fully engaged. My employer will prosper.
Notice we haven’t discussed money at all yet. That wasn’t an oversight. Pay is not one of my Three Things. Pay is important, of course, but several times thus far in my career, I have held jobs that pay less than my family needs to get by because the work gives me my Three Things. Obviously, you’ve got to tap into your savings or augment your income outside of your 9-5 if this is the case. But there are cases in which that makes good sense – as it did for me when I was a nonprofit leader for two years, for instance. I was getting a heavy dose of my Three Things, so I earned next to nothing. Earning money wasn’t the point.
Here’s the thing with for-profit employers, though – and maybe I’m just being a brat. I have a little chip on my shoulder when an employer asks for my help, but is unwilling to pay full price for my services. In my speaking and consulting career, I’ve turned down plenty of business over this.
Employers, there are all sorts of places you can save money, but please, pay should not be one of them. It’s just plain inappropriate for a CEO earning $10 million a year to try to lowball his talent on pay. What he’s saying to his people in such a circumstance is, “I don’t respect you.”
My own experience as an employer was to pay my teachers literally three times the going rate. I wanted my pick of the best teachers in the Boston area, so I signaled very clearly that I respected my talent enough to pay for them. Can most employers afford to do something similar? Not likely. But please, pay the market rate for your talent. Or if you’re smart, pay market plus 20%. Show your respect.
Then, with this threshold issue behind you, assess your staff’s Three Things. Most likely, their Three are different from mine – people are different, no?
Questions for the comments section:
- What are your Three Things? Do you have a good handle on this? Is pay one of your three? A few years ago, I would have listed pay, too: no one’s judging you. Just think a bit about the bedrock issues behind why pay matters. Does high pay mean security? Respect? Being able to afford a certain lifestyle?
- Employers: what are your people’s Three Things? This may just be the most important question you ever ask as a leader. Why? Because only if you tap into their bedrock motivation will you ever unleash their full brain-power. And in this brave new century, we are all knowledge workers, every one of us. No employer can afford a disengaged workforce.
- Am I completely wrong when it comes to the meaning of pay? Lemme have it in the comments!
Photo courtesy of Toga Wanderings