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9 Principles for Work on Purpose – #NI17

By Drew Bonfiglio – Emzingo

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m sucker for foul-mouthed musicals. My favorite being Avenue Q. Definitely not politically correct and often offensive, it’s not an obvious lead to a blog about meaningful work and Purpose.

Unless you’ve seen or heard the musical and know that the actual plot is about a recent university graduate named Princeton trying to find his way in the “real world”.  And the fact that the title of the 4th song is “Purpose”.

The undergraduates who have passed through Emzingo’s Global Impact Fellowship, Impact Learning Treks, and my most recent presentation gig at Net Impact’s 2017 conference are not too different from good old Princeton. They’re smarter, less crude, and trying to figure things out BEFORE they graduate. That said, they’re still looking for purpose and meaningful work.

Our dear Emzingo co-founder, Ramon Marmolejos, took observations from Emzingo’s corporate and academic work, personal life experience, and research on purpose to develop 9 Principles for Work on Purpose. I repurposed, pun intended, these for a workshop in Atlanta at #NI17.

We recommend you take a few minutes alone and without your phone or iPad to journal and reflect on these. We hope you’ll find these helpful in your journey to find meaningful work.

     Pay attention to those moments that mark your life.

I love the concept that each of is the sum of our experiences. Think hard about the life moments that have helped you get where you are and that are currently influencing your path forward.

     Discover what matters most to you.

Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.” We all have obligations, need to pay the bills, have errands to run, etc. But remember this quote and you may change the way you spend the 80,000 hours of work.

     Make sure you’re living out your life, not the one others had in mind for you.

I have a 1 year old. It is glaringly obvious how much I can and will influence the person she becomes. And whether we like it or not, parents, friends, media, and society create a set of expectations. First recognize this, then decide whose life you’re really living and be intentional with what you have left.

    Reality is made of mental models and stories we tell ourselves. Recognize and own these models and stories.

In Systems Thinking, people often show an Iceberg Model. Systems Thinking guru, Peter Senge, discusses how this the further down the iceberg you move, the more leverage you have for change. If you shift your mental models, you can dramatically change systems’ structure, behavior and outcomes. The same is true for your personal and professional life. We all have stories we tell ourselves that shape the lens through which we view the world.

     Identify the problem you want to solve.

Ramon and I went through a transition from thinking about what we wanted to do versus the problem we wanted to solve. Doing should be the result of identifying the problem you want to solve, evaluating your own skills/interests/strengths, and then figuring out what to do to contribute to solving the problem.

     Understand your strengths and turn them into superpowers.

We not tell you to ignore your weaknesses. We’re also not saying you should stop focusing on strengths. What what we are suggesting is that you think about what strengths you have that can be further strengthened to create a comparative advantage. And then consider whether or not the job you have or are considering will give you the chance to use your superpower.

     Surround yourself with the right people. Walk away from others if you have to.

At 5Ks in many major cities in the U.S. and elsewhere, you may seen a bunch very excited, possibly obnoxiously loud, racers all where a November Project shirt. Started right here in Boston, this movement “using a simple sense of accountability (verbal) to motivate and encourage people of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels to get out of their beds and get moving.” This can be extended other parts of life. Who you surround yourself with matters. It’s not for us to tell you who to spend your time with. We just ask you to think about how you influence others, how they influence you, and what you want to do about it.

     Know (and remind yourself if necessary) that business success and social impact are not mutually exclusive.

In October, I was in Toronto for the B Corp Champions retreat. There were hundreds of companies represented, all Certified B Corps, who are living this principle day in and day out. They range from sole proprietorships to multi-billion dollar companies. Don’t let the naysayers fool you. Impact and business success can go hand in hand.

     Integrate purpose and meaning into your work every single day.

Until my wife got annoyed with it, I had the post-it note below on our bathroom mirror. It was my daily reminder to live with intention and purpose. It wasn’t foolproof, but it helped. When you’re thinking about your work, there are sometimes going to be thing you don’t want to do (in my case, taxes). In those cases, take a deep breath and remember the story of the three bricklayers.

Best of luck on your journey.

And in case you were wondering, Princeton found his way, helped his girlfriend start a school for monsters and had an epiphany that he should put everything he has learned into a Broadway musical.

Remember though, if you’re still struggling to find your way after all of this reflection, life goes on and both good and bad things are “only for now.”

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