What is your “life’s work?”

During the nationwide We Work Veterans in Residence orientation yesterday Todd Connor, the CEO of Bunker Labs, probably said many inspiring things. Unfortunately I stopped listening fairly early on into the brief.  It’s because he said something that I and many people would normally overlook. He said “As you pursue your life’s work [...].” It was like everything stopped. I didn’t hear another word. I typed 3 words into my laptop:  Your life’s work. Your LIFE’S work. 

Total Motivation 

Lindsay McGregor

Lindsay McGregor

I recently interviewed Lindsay McGregor, Founder and CEO of The Vega Factor and author of Primed to Perform.  She spoke to me about the concept of Total Motivation or ToMo for short. The concept essentially identifies 3 positive motives to work and 3 destructive components to avoid; all of which ultimately compile someone’s ToMo. I will only cover the positive motives in order to be concise and to not mess it up too bad. This is my basic interpretation. 

 1. Play- what do I like or love to do? What activity do you engage in simply because you enjoy doing it? If I enjoy planning birthday parties or family reunions then I would likely enjoy being a project manager. If I was a project manager who hated the aforementioned organizing activities then maybe my motives and occupation are misaligned. 

2. Purpose  - When you do an activity because you value the outcome , not necessarily the activity itself. I may not enjoy editing video for hours at a time, but I do enjoy the outcome of social media content of my interviewees that makes them happy while at the same time inspiring others.

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3. Potential  - Finding a second order outcome that aligns with your values and beliefs. You essentially believe the work will lead to person goals or things you believe are important. This may be eating a balanced diet and exercising vigorously in order to lose weight. The outcome ? To pass the Initial Strength Test (IST) and be within the height and weight standards required by the Marine Corps in order to qualify for enlistment or commission. The second order outcome? Becoming a United States Marine. 

 Self Audit

Often times we don’t address our problems, we don’t self-advocate, and we avoid unpleasantries because it’s simply less difficult. I believe we feel  like these defense mechanisms don’t require much effort, when in actuality they’re exhausting.

I think a good no bullshit self audit should be a regular occurrence. I used to call these “temperature checks” with my direct report managers. “What’s working? What’s not? Anything else?” Maybe I was projecting a bit, but I would also ask “Do you enjoy this or is it just something you do?” Nonetheless, the easy answer to some of our lingering issues is to attach the blame to people and circumstances beyond your control. After all, “What am I supposed to do if (insert boss or counterpart name here) doesn’t care or always treats me like that?” 

Cassie Frow, a former coworker of mine would often say “problems are treasures.” It was the right attitude. Nothing happens TO us, we just believe it does when we aren’t willing to put forth the effort to control our emotions or responses.  

Audit your motives. Where am I in regards to play, purpose, and potential? Root cause any misalignments and get to work to fix it! After all, stress is the result of not solving problems that we know exist.

Your Life’s Work 

Where am I going with all this? There were 3 years, post military service, that I meandered around with virtually no positive motives for work. It was just work. Of course leading and motivating others was a fantastic outcome but I had no control over what was happening to me- so I thought. 

When, and only when, I decided to take my life and the time I spent on earth catering to my desires and ToMo motives (inadvertently) did things begin to change. And FAST.  I virtually relinquished negative forces, people, and environments from my little world and built a space to welcome the positive, selfless, optimistic forces. 

What I had to say, what I wanted to do, and how I perceived things to be were received with open minds. The byproduct, my mind became much more open as well. 

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Todd’s statement made my mind fast forward to the dreadful day I have to look back on the entirety of my life and determine if I made it count. I can now say that while I may have been a late bloomer my play, purpose, and potential are in alignment and I’m just ... well.. happy. This is not a meant to depict that “work is stupid, do your own thing.” It is meant to serve as a reminder that if you aren’t doing what you desire it will catch up with you sooner or later. Hopefully the former so you can maximize your time passionately engaged in your life’s work.