Tension, progression and the pursuit of purpose

2019-04-25 06:59:56 By LorenzoPrinci

Four weeks ago I resigned from my role at Fairfax Media (Nine). As with any decision of this nature, it wasn't easy but I felt a need to seek more connection between the work I do and a greater sense of purpose. In turn, I felt my own contribution and value would begin to diminish and that would not be fair on my team, and the organisation at large.

Before I unpack the complexities underlying the decision further, I'll take a moment to explain why I wrote this piece at all.

During my notice period over the past few weeks I have found myself compelled—on more than one occasion—to give reasons as to why I hadn't used the opportunity of a job change to take a holiday in-between, rather than opting to start my new job on the Monday following my last day.

Truthfully, the thought of taking a holiday had never crossed my mind. Albeit, there is some logic surrounding the question at face value but in actuality, the logistics are not so simple. Further to that, I actually can't wait to start my new role.

The question did however make me wonder about the nature of our relationship with work. I have never looked at my job as a chore, at least not since I began working professionally as a designer. I do exactly what I love doing and have never actively sought ways to avoid it. This doesn't mean I never take breaks, I just don't obsess over them. I enjoy creating and am quite prolific; in both my professional and personal projects. They give me a sense of purpose.

Perhaps I'm fortunate (or cursed) in this regard? I have noticed however, more and more over the years, that Fridays are celebrated as if the working week is but a gauntlet run toward the weekend. Tolerated only as a means to set up the next holiday?

These recent office interactions had me revisiting a piece I wrote last year on tackling stress in the tech space workplace. In it I broke down what I believed were the causes, symptoms and remedies of work related stress with an underlying theme of authenticity of self. I believe that some of the underlying themes of stress in the workplace are related to the fact that many people are doing work that doesn't satisfy a basic human need to find meaning. Compounding this, is that many organisations (or roles within organisations) don't provide or articulate a shared purpose for the jobs they create.

That's not to say you can't find meaning in stressful work, but that a very toxic environment is created by a lack of meaning on top of stress. To that end, I've become more and more conscious that if work is just a means to survive or secure a financial future, it becomes difficult to progress beyond that very transactional reasoning. Thus leading to it becoming but a chore.

So, back to the topic of my resignation; I decided to leave my role because it could no longer offer me the purpose I seek in the work I do, "the why" behind the products I help to create. It did however offer me ample opportunity to take holidays. So to be fair, if I was in need of a holiday, rather than a change, I simply would have stayed.

None of this is to say my role at Fairfax (Nine) wasn't fun, fulfilling, fruitful or productive. As a Product Designer on the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age apps over the past year and a half I worked across subscription strategy, product research and delivery streams. This has culminated in the release of new native apps for iOS and Android to supplement the existing web platforms. I've also designed the next version of their news app experience, currently in development.

Overall, my time in news media has been educational and creative. I've worked at a variety of altitudes with very intelligent and talented people to; define problems, examine opportunities and validate solutions. Tasked with shaping solutions which require the understanding of the many challenges facing news organisations as well as the needs of news consumers in the era of social-media and "fake news".

For perhaps the first time, news organisation are needing to appreciate the customer as they shift their focus from reach to membership. Being part of this transition has been stimulating and I've enjoyed the experience, learning much along the way.

Yet, I decided it was time to move on because there are two things I continue to check in on as the years pass in my career;

  1. Am I progressing - toward my own goals?
  2. Am I adding value - toward the company needs?

There is a tension between these two questions, and a balance easily tipped; for one can progress without adding value but also add value without progressing.

We can visualise this by assigning ourselves one of the following descriptors in the context of our role;

  • Achiever - carries out the mission exceptionally.
  • True Believer - carries out the mission while being a flag bearer.
  • Stayer - supports the mission but contributes no more than required.
  • Underminer - regardless of the level of performance, is a detriment to the mission.

By allocated ourselves to one, we must acknowledge that we can slip from "achiever" to "underminer" much easier than move up from "achiever" to "true believer".

In my own self-assessment I concluded that I could offer no further significant value toward the mission—and that in return—I could no longer be offered a fulfilling purpose in the context of my own progression. This is nothing anyone at the company has willed but the emergence of circumstance. A series of situations, some in my control, some not.

Therefore, in order to continue my own development and career progression, as well as offer the opportunity for another to take the place I've left behind, I would need to seek a new challenge. I was equally conscious that remaining stagnant would see me slip from "True-Believer" to "Stayer" or worse, become an "Underminer" through the frustration inherent in stagnation.

This continual self-reflection and introspection is critical to a meaningful career and we should do all that we can to ensure we care about what we do whilst questioning our role and the value that we add. This is a deeply personal, complex and difficult concept, all the more difficult if we become comfortable with stagnation.

There are so many opportunities available to us nowadays, quite literally at a fingertips. That working anywhere that has us waiting on the weekend is damaging to our mental health. We must believe that we hold the power to create any reality we wish for ourselves and expect that there be a purpose behind what we do, or what we are tasked with. It is paramount that we give our work, and through it our lives meaning beyond the basic needs of survival and security.

Albeit, this pursuit of purpose is a difficult one, in which we must straddle the tension between adding value to others while making steps in our own progression. Rests, breaks and holidays are important enablers to perform at our best and offer opportunities to unwind, travel, discover new ideas, meet people and experience different cultures. However they should not be an escape from a purposeless working life.

As for me, from next week I'll be a Product Designer at Cluey Learning where I hope to add value to their product and find purpose working in the education space.

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