Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.

January 31, 2006

Finding Where Your Passion, Your Genius and Your Purpose Meet

Filed under: Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 14:37
Recently I suggested that perhaps the best way to decide how you want to make a living was to simply ask Who Needs Your Gift Now? The implication of that question is that your Gift is something you both love (it’s your Passion) and are good at (it’s your Genius). For many that is easy — some people I know have known what their Gift is since they were old enough to talk. For others it has been elusive, either because they feel a mis-fit between their Passion and their Genius, or because, for whatever reason, they have yet to discover their Passion or their Genius. This article is for them (or perhaps I should say, for us).

The chart above is a more elaborate version of the Venn diagram I have used in several recent articles. I use this chart when I review the important-but-non-urgent projects on my Getting Things Done list, to decide which of these projects to work on each day. I had originally planned to flag each of these important-but-non-urgent projects with a number from 1 through 7, depending on which area on the chart above it fell into — and then focus on the projects in area 3 first. But I discovered it isn’t as easy as that (it’s never that easy, is it?), because of the six questions that I’ve now added to the chart:

  • Does it pay enough? Some of my pet projects don’t pay enough to meet my financial needs, so although I love doing them, I’m good at them, and they’re needed, I can’t do them (at least until my pension kicks in).
  • Do you have time for it? Some of my pet projects are enormous, full-time projects, that would require me to stop doing a lot of things that I cannot or don’t want to stop doing (yet).
  • Is your ability recognized? Some of my pet projects are things that I know I am good at, but lack the formal credentials to have much credibility doing (that applies to a lot of environmental work, and even some professional writing work, that I know I’d do well, but with a background in financial and professional services it’s hard to get a hearing when so many biology, environmental science and journalism grads are vying for the same work).
  • Is your ability appreciated? Some my pet projects are things that I know I am good at, but others don’t particularly appreciate. This is a particular challenge in providing innovation consulting services to clients — many potential clients really need these services, but want to hire someone who has been doing very similar work for decades (or, they believe that, with minimal facilitation, they can ‘do innovation’ themselves).
  • Is the need recognized? Some of my pet projects are things I know customers need, but (because I’m too far ahead of the curve) they don’t yet realize they need (and as we all know, the customer is — almost — always right).
  • Is the solution affordable? Some of my pet projects are things I know customers need, and they do too, but they can’t afford them. Many of these customers are not-for-profit organizations, and they’d love to have me working with them, but I’d have to reduce my rate by 80% to fit within their budget.

So how do I categorize these projects — career options really — when because of these ‘hitches’ they aren’t really area 3 projects? And what do I do about the projects that are area 1, 2, 4, or 5 projects — but might become, or be changed to, area 3 projects with time or dedicated effort?

Let’s take the questions one at a time:

  • Does it pay enough? If your answer to this is ‘no’, then I would suggest that ‘what’s needed’ (someone to do this work for little or no remuneration) is not what you have to offer, and this is in fact an area 2 project. You want a six figure income for organic gardening? Area 2.
  • Do you have time for it? If you don’t, what are you spending your time on? If you, like most of the world, are spending most of your life doing area 5 work (which probably means you’re underemployed) maybe it’s time to ask yourself whether you should stop and do some area 3 work instead. But ask yourself the six questions first, to make sure your alternative is really area 3 work. If it is, make time for it!
  • Is your ability recognized? If your answer to this question is no, then either you need to build the personal credentials so it is (if your job and other time commitments will allow you to), or change jobs for one that does recognize your abilities. In the meantime, you’re probably actually doing work you don’t love (area 5 work) and which perhaps isn’t what you’re good at either (area 7 work).
  • Is your ability appreciated? This one’s easier — if there’s a disconnect between what you’re doing and what you know is needed, you’re in area 2.
  • Is the need recognized? Same answer — if you’re ahead of the market, anticipating its needs before the market is ready for your gift, you’re doing area 2 work.
  • Is the solution affordable? Same as the ‘Does it pay enough?‘ answer — area 2.

Let me be personal for a moment and tell you how this applies to the projects in my Getting Things Done list.

  1. Most of my writing projects (other than this blog, which is a hobby and therefore easy to qualify as an area 3 project) are in search of a paying audience, so they are area 2 projects, which I’m working hard to move to area 3 by improving my writing, getting an agent, writing compelling proposals etc. 
  2. Next on my list are a set of projects relating to teaching natural entrepreneurship, life skills, and how to make the world a better place; my AHA! project is part of this set. I am both ahead of the market for these projects and lacking in credentials to offer them, so they are currently area 1 projects (but we’re all allowed a few self-indulgences). 
  3. Third on my list are innovation consulting projects, some of which I really enjoy, and others not so much, and some of which I have excellent credentials for, while others are a real stretch. So they are variously in areas 2, 3, 5, and 6. 
  4. Fourth on my list are various knowledge management projects, which are often area 5 projects, but have their moments of area 3 zen. 
  5. And fifth on my list are the things I have no skills or experience for, but would love to learn: Setting up an off-the-grid model Intentional Community, doing research on interspecies communication (“if I could talk to the animals”), inventing delicious non-animal substitutes for animal-based foods, etc. They’re area 1 and 4 projects.

I’ve said before that if you can’t find work in area 3, you haven’t looked hard enough. That may be harsh, but I think it’s true: It takes courage and perseverance and a lot of self-knowledge to find (or create) that ‘perfect’ job, but it’s out there waiting. But if asking the question Who Needs My Gift Now? doesn’t get you there, is it really possible to ‘move’ a project from one of the other areas to area 3?

My answer to this question, which will probably be controversial, is probably no. Things are the way they are for a reason, and if the potential customers of your pet project just aren’t persuaded, or aren’t ready, for what you have to offer, chances are all the brilliant sales pitches in the world won’t change that. Set your area 2 projects aside and wait for the market to catch up. If your work has you disengaged, and you’ve started to hate getting up in the morning, it’s time to give up on this area 5 work and find something you love. And if you love your work and it’s important, but your co-workers and customers have no confidence in you, chances are training and study and more experience won’t change that (unless you’re brand new in the job, in which case stick with it for awhile) — shelve the area 4 work and find something that’s a better fit for your capabilities.

It’s the same way with relationships. If the love goes, or your partner ceases to appreciate what you have to give, or you just can’t seem to make it work, to the point you feel it’s more trouble than it’s worth, it’s really hard to get it back on track. Often the wisest thing to do is walk away and build a new relationship with someone else you love, who values your Gift and who you are just right for. Just like the perfect job, the perfect partner is almost certainly out there, waiting to be discovered, and a less-than-perfect relationship, like a less-than-perfect job, is incredibly difficult to improve by sheer will power and self-sacrifice.

How do we get in these situations? Sometimes we just take the easy road, accept the first job offer that comes along, so we never know what we might be missing, and suddenly wake up to the realization that life is too short to work at something you hate, or can’t do well, or which just isn’t appreciated. And sometimes what seemed to be the perfect job turns out to be something less than perfect, or else something changes to make it less than perfect (the market moves on while you stay behind, or new skills are needed that you can’t seem to master, or it just become routine and all the joy goes out of it). It’s really hard to turn that around. It’s usually better, I would argue, to start from scratch and search for the project that, right now, falls in area 3. It could take a long time and a lot of work to find, but it will be worth it.

We each have our Gift (our Passion and our Genius), and our Purpose — allthat is required is to discover what they are and where they meet.

Now if only I could learn to take my own advice.

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