How often have you met someone for the first time and immediately ask, “what do you do?” Too often we define ourselves and others by our work. The problem is we don’t all think of work the same way. Some think of it as simply a job. Others – perhaps most – think of it as a career. And only a few consider work as a calling.
If you fall into one of the first two categories, don’t fret. Just because you haven’t mapped the human genome or invented the smart phone, your life can still have purpose. Work doesn’t have to be where we are “fulfilled.”
After attending college in the post-Vietnam / civil rights era, like many others, I graduated with hopes of serving a higher purpose to society. When I realized that earning a good living and serving a higher purpose were not necessarily harmonious pursuits, I chose a career in the investment advisory business.
A year later, I was surprised by two facts: 1) I was, by most measures, good at it, and 2) I enjoyed it. But – and this was a very big “but” — I didn’t enjoy it enough to consider it a “calling.”
After a few soul-searching phone calls, I was introduced to a career coach who gave me the best life advice I’ve ever received. “Your work doesn’t necessarily have to be where you get your life’s ‘goodies,’” she said. “Your life can be fulfilled in other ways: volunteer in your community, serve on boards, be philanthropic.”
Not only did this clear my mind of the guilt I was harboring about not contributing to the advancement of life-saving medical discoveries, but I felt a new energy about my career. Soon after that fateful discussion, I called the founding board member of a new museum being built in downtown LA and told him I’d like to start a new support group to help animate young professionals around this exciting new project dedicated to contemporary art. With the help of like-minded others we created a group that today has over 1,000 members (now much younger than me).
Years later, after my wife and I moved and raised our family in Sun Valley, Idaho, I united my professional life with my community-minded life and began hosting an annual conference in both Sun Valley and San Francisco dedicated to helping small and mid-sized non-profit organizations understand best practices in areas of governance, finance, and development.
Over the past 20 years, nearly a quarter of our firm’s business has been advising non-profit boards on their endowments. Most important, I’ve never had a year of my professional life where I wasn’t engaged on at least one non-profit board. At last, I’ve found my calling.