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Thinking of Your Job as Part of a Legacy Changes Everything

If you think you're burned out, you may be thinking about your job all wrong.

Key points

  • When you think of your job as just a job, you miss the opportunity to see yourself as part of a mission.
  • If your supervisor has never elucidated the company’s mission, ask for clarity or introduce the topic.
  • Fulfilling your goals outside of work should make you more satisfied at work.
Deposit Photos
Deposit Photos

It’s a simple fact: Our jobs can get us down.

Even when we’re not in the midst of the Great Resignation, many people feel burned out and uninspired.

So, what’s the solution? A new job? A crypto-type of sudden wealth?

The only answer is the one that’s both the easiest and hardest to acquire: a new attitude.

Attitude Is Everything

It’s one thing to tell yourself you’re going to have a positive attitude when it comes to work. It’s an entirely different thing to have it, especially when “fake it till you make it” doesn’t seem to be working.

And the best way to change your attitude is to think of what you do as contributing to your company’s legacy.

The fact is that it’s easy to forget, amidst the drudgery of answering emails and creating spreadsheets, that we’re all serving a greater purpose. As an employee of a company, you are helping to keep afloat something that would otherwise not exist. As Steve Jobs said in a 1984 interview, “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.”

In other words, everything you do is contributing to what other people call life.

The NASA Janitor Got It

There’s a famous anecdote about President Kennedy visiting NASA for the first time in 1962. As the story goes, he met a janitor who was carrying a broom down the hallway. When the President asked the janitor what he was doing, the janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

While another janitor might have said he was just pushing a broom, this guy understood that a job isn’t just the actual description—or what we do in the day-to-day—but the part we play in history.

When you think of your job as just a job, you miss the opportunity to see yourself as part of a mission—a member of a team that is leaving a legacy.

How to Focus on a Legacy

The easiest way to start focusing on your company’s legacy is to ask yourself what you most want to accomplish at work: why you pursued or accepted the job in the first place.

This is especially crucial if you’ve had some of your original optimism dashed. For example, let’s say you’re a creative director at an ad agency and are frustrated by clients who tend to select the least creative, most humdrum options instead of more original ones. How can you work with that?

Here’s how: Shift your thinking from “The clients are idiots” to “I want to work with clients who make the boldest, most creative choices.” Getting back to what attracted you to the position or company originally is crucial. After all, focusing on what we don’t want only brings us more of what we don’t want. So let’s focus on what will serve us.

It may seem counterintuitive but fulfilling your goals outside of work is only going to make you more satisfied at work. Work satisfaction, in turn, is going to make you more motivated to contribute to the company’s legacy.

So, if it’s been a while since you’ve thought about it, brainstorm what would fulfill you outside of your job. Is it running a marathon, writing a children’s book with your kid, or saving enough to retire on a farm? Whatever it is, working toward your goal is going to motivate you to seek satisfaction somewhere outside of work so that you’re not relying so heavily on your career to fulfill you.

Focus on Your Strengths

How often do you think about what you’re good at? Well, now is a good time. Make a list of your greatest strengths at work and then ask yourself if those strengths are being utilized as well as they could be.

If possible, try to share those strengths with the person who oversees you and see if together you can brainstorm some ways the company can capitalize on those strengths. Any supervisor who cares about the company is only going to see this as a win-win.

Many companies create lists of core values but fewer seem to clarify their mission for employees. It wasn’t until I was in business for a few years that I realized how important this was. Once I understood the mission, it transformed the company, making it less a publishing company and more a service that helps brilliant business owners become authorities by publishing books.

By sharing that mission with my team, they’re able to help serve a greater purpose, in turn contributing to the company’s legacy. And because they’ve identified their strengths, they’re able to do more of the work they like and to see what they do less as a job and more as a mission.

If your supervisor or CEO has never elucidated the company’s mission, why not ask for clarity or introduce the topic? Doing this will transform not only how you feel about your job but also how you feel about yourself. After all, isn’t it better to contribute to a legacy than to just clock in and out?

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