Make the Work You Want – In 4 Steps

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - 20:15

A talented, creative young man sat in my office recently and expressed frustration with the difficulties he was facing in trying to find a job that matched his interests, skills and, most importantly, his passion.

My advice? Time to ditch the standard job-hunt and unleash your inner entrepreneur. Sometimes you just have to make the work that will bring meaning and feed your aspirations. You can’t always expect what will satisfy you to crop up in a job description written by someone else.

He lit up. He had just found words for rumblings he’d been at a loss to express.

Growing up, our parents and teachers – and the world around us – all tell us that we’ve got to be prepared to go out and hustle up a job. Yet, what if we were challenged instead to mold a mission that moves us and then make the job that gets it done?

Entrepreneurs of all stripes prove every day it’s possible to build meaningful work on the strength of a craft, a calling, a commercial aim – or even a cause. The entrepreneurial spirit among millennials is well documented and discussed, and it’s a spirit I see carry over into the nonprofit space as well. More and more, the resumes I see from young people look more like collages of varied ventures rather than collections of titles and tasks. Not one of them would tell my young, frustrated friend that this is in any way a primrose-lined path. Yet none of them would have it any other way. Maybe we’ve bred a resurgent entrepreneurial culture. Whatever’s going on, I consistently see at least four stages at play in people who choose this route.

They deliberate, and then they declare. From there, they do and defend. Each deserves discussion.

  • Deliberate. This means taking ample (but not endless) time to think, reflect, and gather the information and insights needed to move ideas into action. Seeking out models developed elsewhere can serve as a template perhaps, a reality test, or something to defy and depart from altogether. Deliberation breeds planning; planning frames intention. Later, after launch, deliberating might involve data collection and careful analysis. Study reveals how a cause or commerce resonates with conditions, communities and customers.
  • Declare. Every new venturer must yank the glowing iron from the forge’s flames and assert with the hammer blow of certainty what they will make happen. This defining moment, shared by everyone who’s struck out on his or her own, is difficult to convey and uniquely personal. From this moment of commitment and conviction, all action flows. Risk points in the direction of potential reward.
  • Do. Vision becomes action: a product, a service, a program, a sale. A starting niche widens a crack or two, revealing caverns worthy of prospect. Entrepreneurs do more than pound steel or shave silicon into goods, or etch policy or public opinion into good greater still. They open vistas with visions that frustrate the ordinary.
  • Defend. Entrepreneurs defend what they do by keeping on doing it. They act on what others opt out of as unimaginable, dumb as hell or devilishly complex. Established leaders thought Thomas Edison nuts. Marie Curie struck the path toward a very new way of seeing, at the price of her health. Booker T. Washington defied the wicked degradation of detractors to educate black Americans. All three saw their skeptics proved wrong. To do is to disrupt, and disruption demands grit.

Deliberate. Declare. Do. Defend. Repeat. Until head and heart act in concert, driving progress and powering the natural cycle of invention.

Get a job? No, make the work you want.

Credits: Jelyn Hermosa, graphic; Chris Hunt, content contributions