Help Others to Help Yourself
Get far enough along in school and suddenly the crayons and scissors are all gone. People start talking to you about your future. Your plans. Your career.
At first, it’s fun. Exciting. Dreamy even.
But, slowly it all starts to change. You feel pressure to pick a path. You have to worry about credits and courses. People expect you to know where it all leads.
Some kids seem like they’re further ahead. That they’ve got this plan and know exactly where they’re going and how to get there.
Other kids seem like they just don’t care. Whatever is will be.
And, then there’s you.
I get it.
Here’s the thing. It’s not you. It’s us. The grownups. The adults.
I’m not so sure that we, the adults, are doing a spectacular job of helping you move from school to work.
Sometimes, I think we act as if work is instinctual to the human species. That as you grow-up, you’ll magically evolve into your life’s work.
In fact, we never even really explain work. We probably spend more time complaining, rather than explaining.
So, I’m gonna try to help.
Let’s start with what I think is the fundamental nature of work.
Well, actually, let’s back up a bit, and let’s talk about “work” and “meaningful work.”
I think it’s fair to say that the adults in your life. The ones who know you best. The ones who help you the most. These adults don’t want you to just work your way through life. Just trade your time for money. These adults want you to work at something that’s meaningful to you. That leaves you feeling as if you’ve made a contribution. Left a mark. Had an impact.
So, there’s a difference between work and meaningful work. But, what is meaningful work?
Here’s what I think. I learned it from Zig Ziglar. A professional salesman. That’s right, a guy who went door to door selling pots and pans. Decades ago. I think that guy was really on to something.
Here’s what he wrote. He called it his “core secret.”
“You can have everything in life you want if
you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
That’s it. That’s meaningful work in one sentence. And, I’ve pretty much convinced myself that it’s true for every job. Not just sales.
So, to figure out what work you want to do, don’t start by thinking about yourself. Start by thinking about how you can help other people get what they want.
Rather than thinking about what you want to “be,” think about how you want to help.
And, rather than thinking about things you want, think about what other people want.
If you start here, I think you’ll find your way toward work that has meaning for you. You’ll end up getting out of life what you want.
This will look different for everyone. So, now is not the time to copy off someone else. Make these decisions for yourself.
And, know that thinking about careers in increments of a lifetime is so 20th Century. The job market changes and so do you. Jobs disappear and new ones get created. Your interests evolve and you discover new talents.
So, rather than thinking about a career that will fit you for the rest your life, think about what you want to do for the next few years. Take incremental steps rather than one giant leap.
Lastly, know that any pressure you feel to pick a career is a product of our current culture. Somewhere along the way we, the adults, became obsessed with success. We let success become defined by status. We convinced ourselves that going to just the right college is the key to a great career. A great career is the key to success. And, success creates fulfillment.
But now, many of us adults are painfully aware that we don’t get all that we want out of life just by having a fancy degree and a prestigious career.
The lesson we adults are learning is the one Zig was teaching decades ago. We have to help each other.
The key to success, meaningful work, and a fulfilling life, isn’t about taking for ourselves. It’s about helping each other.