Paradigm Shift

Paradigm Shift in Work

I've always sought out purpose in my work. I've realized I'm not special, and there's actually a larger cultural shift that is changing our perspective on work.
June 05, 2021 · 4 min read

What should I contribute?

Its a big question that sometimes takes a lifetime to answer. In my opinion it is the essence of purposeful work, and purposeful work is key to a meaningful life. It implies a level of skill and intention. You can only find purpose in work if you understand where you can add value. To understand this, it will take a growth mindset, and the courage to experiment with your career.

In an era defined by instant gratification, finding purpose in work is no easy task. Some are lucky and find their calling early in life. We are inundated with stories like these, but in my opinion, those are the exception, not the rule. For most of us, it will take at a minimum years, and potentially decades, to fully understand what our contribution should be. Many will give up long before they realize their full potential, but this is for those who aren't scared to face the abyss.

First, I think we should go easy on ourselves. Throughout history, a great majority of people never had to ask the question, "what should I contribute?". Their work was inherent, like work done by the farmer or artisan, or it was dictated by a master, as it was for domestic servants. It is only recently that we have started to think for ourselves. Even as recently as the middle of the last century, knowledge workers had personnel departments that planned entire careers.

A lot has changed since the turn of the century, particularly on the socio-technical spectrum. Basically technology is creating an external environment defined by rapid, constant, and continuous change. This is true both for our personal lives, and the larger industrial complex. These changes are leading to a reorientation of work, and shift in loyalties. People pick up new ideas and skills, and find new opportunities more quickly than ever before. The loyalty simply isn't there for either companies or employees, and the type of work people do is constantly evolving. This is the Digital Revolution in full effect, and it is the culmination of the shift from agriculture and manufacturing to a services based economy that started in the middle of the last century.

This presents us a lot of opportunities, but often more choice as well. It's an amazing time because we can learn news skills and transition careers and industries in a way that wasn't possible before. I've known quite a few non-technical people who have left traditional careers for coding bootcamps, and pivoted to high paying and in-demand careers in the matter of months. YouTube can teach us pretty much anything we need to know, for free. We have services like Airbnb, Doordash, and Uber, which can either help us with residual income, or save us time that can be put to use on more productive activities. Basically, we have more tools at our disposal that make it easier to try new things, and learn new skills. Trial and error is critical to finding out what our contribution should be, and the world has never better suited for this approach. Only through trial and error can we find the intersection of our skills and interest, which will make the path towards mastery much easier.

In my opinion, the other piece to the puzzle is to find a problem you're passionate about. If we are going to spend 40 hours a week, for up to 40 or 50 years, on our work, it might as well be something you care about. Not all of us are immediately in a position to follow our passions, but I firmly believe it is something we can all work towards. There are a lot of problems in the world that need fixing, and a lot of smart, driven people that would like to hire other smart, driven people. Again, this may require some trial and error. Your dream company on paper may not live up to expectations, and that is ok. If you have an eye toward purpose, work really hard, and know the value you can offer, it will inevitably lead to the right place, where you can have an outsized impact.

Oh and the part about hard work. Its a rarity these days. Even if you don't love your work for now, if you work hard, at a minimum you will have opportunities to grow in some capacity, and doors will be opened. Passion without hard work and direction will only lead to suffering. Be passionate, but try to figure out what you're good at and what you care about first. It's not easy, but it allow you to find direction. Once you have direction, it's all about the work.