My sister, Iginia, and I are on a mountain ledge peering down a steep slope. We’re gawking instead of skiing this run because of its thick layer of ice. It will rebuff any ski edge and, thus, send us careening down several hundred feet. Backtracking is not an option.
I whimper “We’re trapped” and collapse to the ground.
The tactics you need
Thankfully, Iginia ignores my melodrama and continues studying the terrain. “We’ll break through!” she suddenly exclaims and starts down the mountain doing just that. By making exaggerated jumps at each turn, her skis smash through the icy crust and take hold in the soft snow hidden beneath.
Like that ski run, work can appear unyielding. Charity might not find any purchase in your crusty office culture. It’s easy to think that you’re trapped in the current calloused version of your job. To make a positive social impact, or to job purpose, you need a breakthrough technique. Good news! I have, not one, but four job purposing “jump turns” for you:
Deepen your service. Try doing more for those you serve or for a subset facing especially hard circumstances. For example:
- A flight attendant who has felt helpless around autistic youth might become trained in assisting families with special-needs children. His daily work now includes bringing comfort and joy to families experiencing hardship.
- An internal auditor helps to mitigate the stress her work generates in the teams she audits. In the introductory meeting she acknowledges that being audited can produce anxiety, covers a few stress-reduction practices and gives each team member a stress ball and a sprig of lavender, which has been scientifically shown to calm the nervous system. She also learns to deliver bad news with respect and compassion and takes great care to apply these softening techniques when reporting negative findings. She now feels confident that she minimizes the pain and stress her work causes and brings dignity to the workplace.
Add charity. Some of the best job purposing simply stretches the job description to encompass an act of compassion. For example:
- The flight attendant based in a wealthy country might ask the staff of developing-country hotels he visits what items their families need. Once home, he organizes a used-item drive among his colleagues and delivers these on his next stay. He now knows that his boss’s old frying pan helps a security guard in Lima serve his children a warm breakfast. He even gets thanked for it frequently.
- The internal auditor, on the other hand, could offer an environmental audit as part of her financial audit, covering ways to reduce solid waste and energy use, and delivering bonus “green suggestions“ alongside the customary performance recommendations. Now she heads home every workday knowing she’s helped to keep our oceans clean and skies clear.
Replace an activity. Can you do something you already do in a manner that is better for the world? For example:
- The flight attendant might exchange a common pleasantry like “Enjoy the rest of your trip” with a plug for a cause like “Did you know that you can bring hope to families with seriously ill children by donating miles to Ronald McDonald House Charities?” This not only directs funds to a valuable cause, but tilts the culture on that flight toward compassion.
- The internal auditor could replace her usual pleas, or threats, for the audited team to provide the requested data within two weeks with a charitable incentive: If the team submits all the requested information on time, they will receive a $300 charitable donation card to give the nonprofit of their choice.
Extend to a charitable population. A traditional method of job purposing is offering pro bono services. Might you be able to serve individuals who cannot afford your product or service? For example:
- The flight attendant might partner with Second Wind Dreams to establish a way for coworkers and passengers to donate cash or miles toward dream fulfillment. Now elderly individuals get to visit a college roomate, attend to a Rolling Stones concert or otherwise have a wish come true. If it seems implausible for a flight attendant to spearhead such a sophisticated charitable program, it’s not. They already have.
- The internal auditor could invite nonprofit representatives to fill empty seats in her monthly seminar on performance and efficiency.
Hopefully, you see possibilities for job purposing by deepening, adding, replacing or extending what you do. Unfortunately, this still might not be enough.
Tactics aren’t enough
Eventually, I stopped cowering and summoned the courage to make inelegant, but functional, jump turns down that icy run. Had I been able to avoid it, however, I would have.
I would still be on that ledge wondering how my life had become so diminished. This is the problem with our dull, but comfortable, jobs. There is no impending darkness or frostbite forcing us forward.
The job purposing tactics spell DARE because, regardless of which you choose, it will require courage. There’s the risk of colleagues rolling their eyes, of those you offer to help rejecting you and of upsetting the status quo. Doing nothing, on the other hand, is effortless.
Don’t be fooled, though. Doing nothing is likely more perilous than job purposing. Inaction traps us in resignation, laboring joylessly for months or years. Keeping within the confines of a narrowly defined traditional job is a slow death.
Don’t let fear trap you in meaningless work. Use a job purposing tactic to break through the workplace crust of sterile indifference. DARE to job purpose today.