|Ancient Evening by Alphonse Osbert, 1908 (public domain - Wikimedia Commons)|
“Man’s ideal state is realized when he has fulfilled the purpose for which he is born. And what is it that reason demands of him? Something very easy—that he live in accordance with his own nature.” — Seneca
Everyone is busy.
Busy creating. Busy in video calls. Busy trying to grasp onto fleeting moments with kids who, overburdened with so many activities, have limited time remaining at home before they embark upon their lives independently.
We’re all busy. But busy in service of what?
I recall observing our then-six-year-old around the time she graduated from kindergarten. She was (and still is) busy, every day.
I jokingly asked her what she does on her day off. Fully aware that she is a nonstop self-driven dynamo, she chided me: “I’m a kid — I don’t have a day off!”
How many of us are working at that kind of pace, as the lines between home and work continue to be blurred?
Who among us is focused on our well-being?
Well-being doesn’t happen by accident, nor does it happen to us. We need to turn our attention to it deliberately.
As leaders, we need to be concerned about the well-being of our employees, but we also need to be aware of our own need for well-being, for the burned-out leader is no leader at all.
A Perennial Issue
We tend to think that this focus on our work above all else is a recent phenomenon — a side-effect of the wondrous technology that allows us to do what we do.
Our small talk at cocktail parties (remember those?) and other social events leads us to ask the inevitable question of our confreres:
“What do you do?”
We get straight to what seems to matter most to us, rather than the more genteel (and perhaps uber-polite British) “How do you do?”
But this is nothing new. In 1782, Benjamin Franklin published Information to Those Who Would Remove to America, and in it, he noted that in America people
“do not inquire concerning a stranger, What is he? but, What can he do? If he has a useful art, he is welcome…But a mere man of quality, who on that account wants to live upon the public by some office or salary will be despised and disregarded.”
“The purpose of life is not to be happy—but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.” — Leo Rosten, 1962
More frequently, we see the mention of purpose as it relates to jobs and companies. We hear of “purpose-driven brands” and of finding the purpose in your work.
Indeed, my very first podcast guest, Laura Gassner Otting, wrote the book Limitless, in which she noted how central consonance is to our work — when what you do matches who you are.
Incidentally, Laura celebrated her birthday with this thread:
The French philosopher Simone Weil, who died at the young age of 34, understood the importance of connecting our authentic selves to our work. When we’re doing the work that means something to us, that resonates with who we are, we’re being generous: generous to those whom the work touches, and generous to ourselves.
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” — Simone Weil, 1942
Doing good work — work that allows you to give your full attention, work that matters to you and that matches your sensibilities — isn’t inherently selfish. Quite the contrary.
Work with a purpose expands your soul and allows you to become your best self and—in your leadership capacity—to help others become the best versions of themselves.
So again, I ask: what are you busy in service of?
Thanks, and I'll see you on the internet.
👉 Premium Members receive an additional related essay, plus curated links, stories, and audio and book recommendations every other week. And the latest feature: regular Office Hours every week to explore a topic together.