The American activist and author Marty Rubin once wrote:
"Better to sleep all day on a park bench than do work you don't believe in."
We might not all take it to that extreme, but he makes a good point. How often do you stop to question what you’re doing with your life and why?
It’s easy to accept every opportunity that comes our way without much thought about the decision. In the moment, we lose sight of the fact that everything we say “yes” to means we’re saying “no” to something else, even if we don’t know what that something else is yet.
Yet it’s never been easier to pursue what matters to you; to connect with other people who are passionate about the same niche areas; to access information and opportunities from everywhere. Why? Because of this crazy, beautiful, chaotic thing called the Internet.
But in a world brimming with possibilities, it can feel impossible to navigate them — especially in terms of how we spend our working hours. My friends and I always seem to discuss the same topics:
- Should I keep working with this prestigious company even though the experience sucks?
- Should I do this well-paid but boring work so I can spend the rest of my time doing the stuff I care about?
- Should I change jobs, start freelancing, go back to university, take on this new client?
With so many options, it’s never been more difficult to know when to take a risk and when to stay put. Here’s my straightforward solution to this problem:
Define your criteria up front. Think of it as your future self outsourcing the pressure to your present self.
If you reflect and plan ahead of time, you can be clear and level-headed about what you want before you need to give someone a firm answer or take decisive action to make something happen.
My formula consists of three parts: Money, Passion, and Reputation. Let’s take a look at each of them.
💸 Money 💸
You might love what you do, but it’s still work — and that means you need to make good money from it. Don’t shy away from that reality: You’ll do some work simply because it pays well. But if it was only about money, you’d probably be a big-time exec in the oil industry, right? There’s a balance to strike.
😍 Passion 😍
The most fulfilling jobs are the ones that make us feel like we’re part of something bigger — on a journey, collaborating with others, making an impact. Perhaps it’s working with a company whose mission you truly believe in, being part of an inspiring team, or doing whatever geekery helps you find your flow state. Whatever it is, it matters.
💃 Reputation 💃
Maybe you want to be featured on a website, make inroads at an organisation, or work on a new type of project and really nail it. The only way to level up your opportunities — not to mention your pay — is to gain experience and recognition. Developing your network also falls under this category, since it contributes to both.
The basic idea here is that everything you do ticks at least two of the three boxes. If something pays well and you’re passionate about it, then it’s probably worth doing even if it won’t enhance your reputation. If a project comes with a good rate and prestige attached, then your passion can wait for the next one. You get the gist.
Sure, you need to pay the bills, but your world is limited if that’s the only work goal you’re striving for. That perspective is also an easy way to end up doing the same projects and earning the same amount for the next 10 years, because every decision is made without reference to the bigger picture.
The future of work is human
By creating a personal compass to help you navigate opportunities, you’ll be able to achieve a balance between practicality and purpose. You’ll ensure you keep advancing in ways that are meaningful to you. Pursuing what’s meaningful will only grow more important in the years ahead.
The most overlooked aspect of the future of work is the need to develop our humanity alongside our technologies. We need to invest in ourselves as humans.
The tasks that can’t be automated are the ones that require a uniquely human touch. Meaning leads humans to do their boldest, most ambitious work — so we have to learn how to bring out the best in ourselves and pursue it.
In practice, that means moving beyond generations of wisdom about work. The future looks nothing like the past. Our challenge today is to embrace a landscape that’s more uncertain than our parents or grandparents ever could have predicted — but that’s truly ours to shape.