How To Design Your Life’s Mission Into Your Career

When web designer Ben Blumenfeld was working for a major TV network, he was responsible for creating websites for mainstream shows. One day, he made a breakthrough that led to a significant uptake on a show, but the success struck Ben in a way he had not expected. His success meant more people would spend evenmore time watching TV, and he ultimately didn’t see that as a good thing.

The moment proved to be an inflection point for Ben. He wanted to find ways to bake his mission into his career. So when he got a lucky break to join Facebook he continued to look for ways to meld his career and his intention to make a positive difference in the world. As one example Ben joined with Stanford’s Peace Innovationinitiative to start, which in turn sparked a conversation around the world about whether people believed we would reach peace in the next 50 years. (Incidentally, Americans are consistently far more pessimistic about this than other countries, such as Egypt, which is among the most optimistic).

Most recently he left and joined with Enrique Allen to cofound The Designer Fundwhich invests in designer-led startups that bake positive social impact into the mission of the institution. Instead of impact being an afterthought or separate project, like some company’s apologetic foundations sometimes appear to be. (Explore some of their inspiring investments here: NeighborlandAngaza Design,Solar Mosaic and Launchpad Toys).

I particularly like the idea of baking positive social impact into the DNA of these organizations by design, rather than thinking of it as an after thought. I am currently teaching a class at thed.Schoolat Stanford applying strategy and design to people(instead of executive teams as I typically do). It provides the space for students to step back and reflect. The objective is to think about their lives and careers by design rather than by default.

Here are three steps each of us can follow if and when we get to a place in life where we’re questioning what the work we are doing — all the hours we’re spending — are ultimately adding up to.

(See the original Harvard Business Review piece here to see/use the sketch template for Step 1 and 2).

Step 1: Sketch Your Career. It is so easy to get consumed by the stream of activities in our careers. We get so caught up in living our lives that we don’t stop to think sufficiently about our lives. We are reacting instead of being strategic. When I find this happening, I use this simple tool to get a broader perspective. You start on the left at the beginning of your career and end on the right hand side (today). You draw a single line up if you were enjoying the experience and down if it was unfulfilling for you. Write down where you were working, what you were working on, and any other factors that shaped your experience.

Step 2: Connect the Dots. Use the sketch from Step 1 as a launch pad into being an anthropologist of your own life. Go somewhere quiet. You might think of it like a strategic offsite for your own life and career.

Ask: When was I truly happy and why? What activity or theme do I keep coming back to? What is my gravitational pull? When was work effortless for me? What isn’t working for me? When do I seem most like myself? When was it meaningless and why? When was work meaningful and why? Don’t rush the process. Pause long enough to listen. Write the answers down as they come so you can reflect on them later.

Step 3: Ask, “What Will I Create that Will Make the World Awesome?” That may sound like a bit of a wild question but an essential element of strategy is, to state the obvious, thinking about what we want to create in the future.

Ask: What would I do if I could do anything? What would I do if all jobs paid the same? If I could only achieve one thing in my career, what would it be? What do Ireally want? Again, these are big questions. But my experience is that people spend far more time worried about their job than in creating a vision for their career and how they can uniquely contribute to the world. (If you are looking for a pep talk, thisthree minute video from “Kid President” does a fun job challenging us to figure out what we can do to make the world awesome).

Many years ago I followed a process not at all unlike this one listed above and, without exaggeration, it changed the course of my life. The insight I gained led me to quit law school, leave England and move to America to start down the path as a teacher and author. You’re reading this because of that choice. It remains the single most important — and strategic — career decision of my life.

It’s a simple process. But it can help us to break down some complex questions. Like the poet Mary Oliver’s beautifully haunting question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Read the original post: How To Design Your Life’s Mission Into Your Career – Linkedin Blog

I welcome your thoughts below and @GregoryMcKeown.

Photo: Eky Studio/