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The Start-Up of You

Mark Guterman and Dan King

Photo of man sleeping on computerIn a recent New York Times column, The Start-Up of You, Thomas L. Friedman wrote that employers today are looking for people “who not only have critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t, but also people who can invent, adapt, and reinvent their jobs everyday, in a market that changes faster than ever.”

We certainly agree, but find that this drive toward world-class skills and performance often leaves people exhausted and overwhelmed by the relentless struggle to stay competitive in the global market place. More people are feeling disengaged from their work than at any time in recent memory. And the future looks murky at best.

As a growing number of people seek meaning in their work and careers, they’re confronted by employers who demand more initiative, innovation and adaptability, creating one of the great laments in modern work places: “Meaningful work is key to my motivation and satisfaction and yet it seems to be vanishing as a real possibility.”

Amidst this reality, how can people cultivate and develop meaningful work? Will they drop out of organizations to start businesses more in line with their values and purpose? Will they give in to the demands of the market place and look to fulfill their meaning needs in other ways and places? Will they re-define what gives meaning to their work and lives?

These are real-life questions with few, if any, definitive answers. We can, however, offer some rational perspective and guidance for moving toward a more meaningful future. First and foremost, whatever your work situation is, you must find a way to tie performance and development together. Here’s how:

  • Build on-going learning into your day to day experience at work. If your professional development is just an afterthought or if you’re waiting for your organization to define it for you, nothing will happen, and you’ll find yourself constantly wondering what’s missing.
  • Clarify your values and make sure they’re closely aligned with your personal and professional development. Know what matters to you above and beyond a paycheck.
  • Identify your strengths and leverage them so that you’re working in your own unique and brilliant way. The more you seek opportunities to employ what is best about you, the more meaning you will experience in your work.
  • Know your value proposition and package it in a way that continuously adds value to the work that you do. As you come to know and live out your value proposition, you’ll find that instead of being tired and discouraged, you’ll have ample energy and optimism for the challenges ahead.

Friedman suggests that for entrepreneurs, the motto has always been “differentiate or die.” Now, he says, that goes for all of us. You must build a meaningful work life that differentiates you and “adds value in a way no one else can.”

In Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, poet and author, David Whyte, says that “a (meaningful) approach to work is probably the only way an individual can respond creatively to the high-temperature stress of modern work life without burning to a crisp in the heat.” The start-up of you, then, is not only a way to develop life-long employability, but also the surest path to a work life that has meaning along the way.

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