I've had an illuminating series of conversations over the past few weeks, which have culminated in a few uncomfortable, but thoroughly valuable revelations. The crux of it is this:
You can be busy or remarkable - but not both.
You can churn out a stack of work that meets a client brief or brings in a steady stream of revenue, but it won't be the kind of work that lights you up, or lights anyone else up for that matter.
Why? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that good work - and by that I mean work that is truly personally fulfilling - is expensive. It takes time and free headspace to do work that feels good, and that also touches others in a positive way too. It takes discipline and focus, neither of which are easy to come by in an age of overstimulation and constant connectedness, and both of which are difficult to charge for. All of which are difficult to jam in around work that actually pays the bills.
Good work isn't easy to monetise. Almost all the people I know who are doing interesting creative, academic and entrepreneurial work find it a struggle financially at times. You can't charge for the hours of thinking, researching, analysis, thinking, bursts of inspiration, rethinking and working that go into realising a good idea to the full extent of your capabilities.
Inevitably, financial responsibilities, risk minimisation, and the rules of supply and demand take priority over doing good work. I imagine a lot of people (Gen Ys in particular) start off in their career with grand intentions of doing something great, before the reality of having to pay the bills sets in. Sometimes we don't even realise what's happened, but before you know it, the work you're doing is a pale imitation of what you actually want to do and what you actually could do. If only you had the time, money, headspace...
An awful lot of people spend their time being busy instead of remarkable. We're chasing dollars and racing the clock, and as a result we're doing work that is valuable (in the sense that people pay us to do it), but not enthralling. Satisfactory, but not truly satisfying.
So many work days are filled with activity rather than action - busyness for the sake of busyness, instead of strategic and creative thinking, and doing - for impact. It makes me really sad to see that what's remarkable and what's profitable is rarely the same thing, and there's much that I'd like to say on this subject in general, but I'll save it for another blog post.
So what do I do with this information?
Recalibrate. Cull. Create space and find focus. Play. Strive for quality over quantity. Aim for remarkable.
A dear friend reminded me of the Cal Newport quote just when I needed to hear it. Having adopted this as his motto for 2014, it has catalysed big personal and professional changes for him. In a strange serendipitous twist, he'd originally come across the post via an earlier tweet of mine, which I'd promptly forgotten about. That's what you call coming full circle! He passed the wisdom back on to me, as he was finishing up a consulting role to move back into an impact driven organisation he feels passionately about. Brilliant.
Recently, I've been splitting my work days over two different jobs, with two organisations I believe in. On good days, it is an absolute delight to work with people who are values aligned, on big goals that I feel have real merit. On a bad day, I can't sleep or concentrate for thinking about the tasks I have to complete, the opportunities we have to capitalise on, and the contacts we need to exploit. I've come to realise that despite their big ambitions and fact that they're doing some really good stuff, I'm not actually able to do great work. Too much work and not enough time or headspace to do any of it well equals an unfulfilling work dynamic.
As serendipity would have it, just as I was coming to my busy/remarkable realisation, an opportunity that was too good to pass up presented itself. So, I will be starting a new role at Intrepid Travel from this week. This is really exciting for me, mixing the kind of work I'm passionate about with the global perspective I've been craving. I can't wait.
I'm excited about this change as it also makes space for me to do some other things I'm really passionate about. Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking to repack that newly acquired brain space with stuff. Instead, I'm going to focus my attention on one job and some study, and on hopefully doing them both justice. I'm going to give myself some time to revisit projects I've put on the shelf. It's been too long since I've given myself some creative scope to explore these things, and I'm excited to be able to start playing with them again. Hopefully this will also include being able to write more on some of these themes. There really is a lot to cover.
But first, some thank yous. It is somewhat bittersweet to leave behind the CSL family, and a massive thank you in particular to Kate Harris, Dave Seignior and the whole team who have made the experience such an inspiring time in my life. I'm also leaving Net Balance after a short but sweet stint and I'm very grateful for the experience and the relationships I've built there. Big hugs to my friends Cameron Neil, Fiona Silke and Alice Howard-Vyse for being wonderful and really helping me get my head around this. And to Amy Bolger for talking me in to applying for her wonderful job at Intrepid in the first place.
Some related further reading from some most excellent people:
- You can be busy or remarkable but not both (Cal Newport)
- Burnout: Time to abandon a very costly collective delusion (Arianna Huffington)
- Overthrow yourself (Umair Haque)
- 10 reasons you have to quit your job in 2014 (James Altucher)
- How to have a year that counts (Umair Haque)
- 7 reasons why you will never do anything amazing with your life (Raymmar Tirado)