Several days ago creative procrastination (yes, it happens to all of us) led me to Sean Low’s blog, the business of Being Creative. Sean’s latest post raises a number of thought provoking questions, most notably: “What work matters to you? Beyond your creative business, your clients, colleagues or employees.”
This question concerns us all, not just the “artists” and the league of extraordinary creative endeavours. In every worthwhile pursuit in life, the journey of discovering what really matters—work related or otherwise—can take years or even decades to find then embrace.
But isn’t that ultimately the point? Isn’t the journey itself what really matters most? Not the short term deliverables or next week’s deadlines, but the way we reach these outcomes—not the outcomes themselves.
Yet these more immediate concerns (e.g. deadlines, meetings, emails) typically get the lion’s share of our attention, while the bigger questions, for example, “What will the next 10 years of my work look like?”, get pushed aside as we get distracted by next week’s commitments. Another round of deadlines, meetings, and emails please!
It seems fitting, in an odd way, the journey of getting to-and-from work is analogous to our career and the way things seem to spontaneously unfold. Iterative and unscripted; episodes sometimes marked by trial and error; a series of interconnected interactions, some fruitful, others conspiring to give us high blood pressure and a few extra grey hairs. There’s an algorithm at work, somewhere behind the scenes.
Consider the typical urban commute: walking or perhaps running to grab a crowded, smelly bus or streetcar; then a bumpy, noisy subway train ride; transfer, then a brisk walk through a sea of people clamouring to grab another train going off in a completely different direction; brush against a few people, another bumpy, but not-so-smelly train ride this time; an exit, more walking, then an escalator going down, down, another few hundred feet through a steel and glass fortress, then a huge flight of stairs (can I climb this?); a quick jaunt across a busy street—yikes, almost got hit by a taxi cab; a series of doors open leading to an elevator. Now, this is where the fun begins.
If each of us knew intuitively from day-one exactly the type of work that would provide us with the greatest sense of fulfillment our careers might end up being quite boring. If we always follow a straight and narrow path meticulously plotted out, cautious to avoid any conflict, too righteous to experience failure or entertain divergent circumstances outside of our “job description”, things could get awfully monotonous.
The only way to find and fully appreciate work that genuinely matters is to go through the experience of doing work that doesn’t matter.
So go and do work that doesn’t challenge or engage your creativity or your analytical side; collaborate with clients that try to paint you into a corner, pigeonhole your ideas, or micro manage your contributions. Do this for as long as it takes to realize what you really want to do. Then, possibly, you’ll have the insight and motivation to seek out the work that truly matters.
This may sound like a guerilla tactics approach or a strange interpretation of enlightened ideas on the quest to find meaningful work. Indeed, career planning can be an oxymoron if only because the world of work carries with it a strange, curious, scary, and often unpredictable nature that can’t readily be preplanned.