Although it was eleven years ago, I can still close my eyes and hear the silence on the other end of the phone as though it was yesterday. The silence came from my mom right after I finished telling her that instead of accepting a job offer from one of the most well respected public accounting firms in the world, I was going to pursue a job working for a faith-based non-profit. The silence became louder when I mentioned that I’d be responsible to fundraise from my friends and family to pay for my micro-salary.
She finally broke the silence to say that although she considered my plans noble and worthwhile, I must have forgotten that I’ve been wired to enjoy the “finer things in life” like playing golf at country clubs, driving nice cars, and enjoying expensive meals. The example she and my dad had set for me was to work hard to provide a great lifestyle, then volunteer for a cause. I was bucking the trend, changing the traditional game and deciding to make my cause my work. It was disruptive for them, and certainly risky for me because she was right—and I knew I’d be closing the door to the Member-Guest tournaments, driving the latest BMW, and attending the awards dinners in my honor. But I intuitively knew that if I chose that path then I’d be making the decision to pursue the things that would leave me empty, lonely, and confused. I had to work for a cause, I had to know that my work made a difference and I had to make a mark.
I’ve grown up a lot since then, and continued to ponder the difference between working for applause or working for a cause. Really, I am still constantly struggling with the temptation to chase the old version of applause: money, kitchen remodels, new cars, promotions, and memberships. I know to the depths of my core that those things aren’t important—they’re temporal and fleeting, and I’ll always need more. Truth be told though, I do feel inferior when my friends talk about their applause, and I frequently compare myself to where my parents were at financially when they were my age. Applause can be so deceptive.
Now, society has changed and I’m growing up on the front end of a generation that’s been working hard to redefine everything—choosing to write a different story where success is measured by things like social impact, lives changed, babies saved, and water sources cleaned. It’s become cool to work for a cause.
Before we celebrate the shifts and declare a cause-driven world to be better, we need to examine how the same temptation to work for applause has crept into our causes. Applause in a cause-driven world looks different, and it’s just as distracting and fleeting.
You might be working for applause if…
• Your first move in the morning is to see if anyone has retweeted last night’s tweet
• You say “yes” to any speaking engagement before you even know if you’re available
• You frequently check the number of your Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, and Twitter
• You feel empty, lonely, or lazy on vacation
• You find yourself comparing, competing, criticizing, or crazed by jealousy
• You reach out to new people because they might connect you to even bigger people
• Your heart races when you imagine potential book deals and articles written about you
You might be working for a cause if…
• You can’t sleep at night because you’re strategizing how to get better, smarter, and more efficient
• You use social media to create more awareness of your cause
• You crash on Friday night, but can’t wait for Monday morning
• You feel bummed when passed over for a grant, a speaking gig, or nobody retweeted you—but it only strengthens your resolve
• You reach out to new people who can teach you and add value to your cause
• Your heart races when you imagine more scale and more impact
Applause for a Cause
Even if the pursuit of applause is a never-ending, shallow pursuit, us cause-driven folks still need feedback, validation, and affirmation of a job well done. It’s still important for us to know if we’re on the right track, even if we’re largely unnoticed and unrecognized by social media or blogs. So, what does applause in a cause-world look like?
• Impact: The most important applause for a job well done is the actual impact to your stakeholders, the stories of lives inspired, saved or changed.
• Fulfillment: Your work matters, and it feels good and satisfying. You’re proud of who you are and what you do.
• Loyalty: People are attracted to passionate people, and people will stick by your side as you continue to fight, struggle, and stay the course.
• Legacy: Your work will last well beyond you. No matter what happens, no one can take away the stories from you.
• Drive: People who work for a cause find that they’re tireless when compared to others. They find unexpected energy being caught up in something that’s bigger than them, and it’s worth getting out of bed in the morning.
• Profit: Ken Blanchard has said, “Profit is the applause for taking care of your customers and your people.” People who work for a cause find that money is attracted to passion, impact, focus, and efficiency.
Three uncommon sense tips to start working for a cause
I have many friends who work in traditional corporate settings who see their lives very differently than they see mine. It’s easy to tell that I work for a cause, and not so easy to figure out how working at a large communications company, mid-sized accounting firm, or at a heating and air conditioning service company could be cause-driven. If you find yourself there, here are three uncommon sense tips to start working for a cause, right where you are:
1. Find new friends
If you notice that the normal conversation between you and your close friends revolves only around the best new restaurant, the next vacation, or whom you’ve met lately, find new friends. Start spending time with people who are leaning forward, have their palms up, and are constantly wondering what it looks like to make a splash.
2. Change your job
As you search deep within yourself, if you can’t find one ounce of passion or pride in what you do, what your company does, or the industry you’re in—quit. Change your job. Start over. Seriously. I have a friend who works as an internal auditor in a large, multi-national company. When I challenged him about whether or not he works for a cause, he quickly snapped back that his company makes the medical devices that save lives all across the planet and he’s proud to be a part of that. If you don’t have that same spark, find it now.
3. Pick a fight
I remember watching a guy sucker punch another dude in the cheap seats at a professional football game. They got into a brawl that disrupted an entire section of fans. If you don’t have a cause, pick one. Spend some time in self-reflection figuring out what fires you up or pisses you off. If you can’t think of anything, then just sucker punch yourself and sign up for something—anything—to get your hands dirty and your nose bloody.
For the next stage of my life, I’m looking to be the one who gives applause. With Shawn Parr, Gregg Imamoto and Megan Grable at Bulldog, we’ve spent a year building the YouSchool—a company whose entire purpose is to unlock the potential in others. We offer a program to help high school and college students get clear on who they are and what they’re wired to do, then unleash them with the tools they’ll need to plan a life built for them. The applause we’re hoping for is impacting at least one life and cheering them on as they make a splash in the world. Stay tuned as we spend this year cracking the code in San Diego, and onward in 2014.
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