Someone said to me last week, “you never retire from purpose”. I loved that because it encapsulated what I feel about work. I get asked a lot — as I get closer to “traditional” retirement age- when I plan to retire. My answer is always that I don’t. My work looks very different than it did 5 years ago, and I expect it will continue to evolve. While the number of hours I work is at least as great as it ever has been, the places where I spend my time- on a portfolio of companies and clients- is diverse and I stopped “going to the office” long before COVID made that the norm. I enjoy this variety and the different types of challenges I face, and the thread that ties all of these endeavors together is “purpose”.
Every day I make my “to do” list for tomorrow. When my list is complete I review it for the contribution that each task makes to a bigger goal that I have (which have their own master list). Advancing these bigger projects makes every day an adventure. Every night before I go to bed, I review the day to see if I made the impact I wanted to make. Some days more is achieved than others, as with everyone — but being conscious of the impact I desire to make increases the odds that it will actually happen.
I had a second conversation last week with a student that got me thinking more about the context that our work lives should fit within in our lives. I had given a lecture last year in this student’s finance class, where I had talked about was the Japanese idea of Ikagai- finding work that is at the intersection of what you love, what the world needs, what you can be paid for and what you are good at.
The student embraced this concept, but wanted to add one more thought. He said that once you find this job that meets the Ikagai concept, you can still burn out and also have a miserable life -if you focus on work to the exclusion of all else in your life. This is an excellent point- Ikagai is only one part of the equation, but the big picture of how you spend your time in total, is essential to focus on. No matter how purposeful your work, it doesn’t replace the investments in relationships- family and friends- or other important aspects of life like health or spiritual development, that ultimately will be the determining factor in whether your life was fulfilled. I doubt that most people on their death bed spend a lot of time reflecting on their work, whereas being surrounded by friends and family and knowing that the relationships in your life are meaningful will most certainly make a difference.
Purposeful work is important, and can bring a lot of joy to life, but it is not the whole of life, nor even the most important part.