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A few years ago, Thomas Friedman, who through his book The World Is Flat brought broad awareness to the impacts of globalization and technology on society and the world, wrote an article called From Hands to Heads to Hearts. This piece tracesour development from a hands-based economy (agriculture through the industrial era) to a heads-based economy (service and technology economy) to a heart-based economy. Once we have automated and optimized products and services by the use of our hands and heads, what is left is the work of the heart. What implication does this have for careers?

“It will be all the things that the heart can do,” he explained. “Humans can love, they can have compassion, they can dream. While humans can act from fear and anger, and be harmful, at their most elevated, they can inspire and be virtuous. And while machines can reliably interoperate, humans, uniquely, can build deep relationships of trust.”

Heart careers are rooted in the values of human compassion and the betterment of society. The jobs may not be so different, but how you apply your skills and the organizational cultures you participate in will be different. B-Corps and Social Benefit Corporations are on the rise. And as consumers become more conscious of where they spend their money with the support of internet searches and public shaming organizations such as Sleeping Giants, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is just good business. Public-private partnerships are on the rise (Elon Musk didn’t do it all himself, he received $4.9B in government funding).

A desire for a meaningful career can show up at any time in your life. You might be born and bred to service and mission, you might have a formative experience that shaped your life, or it might be a part of your life’s journey. From the perspective of Maslow’s hierarchy, a motivation for meaning emerges when we have attended to our more basic needs: Survival, love, family, and community. Once we have enough, we generally wish the same for our brothers and sisters.

From our perspective, acting on the desire to make the world a better place starts with a process of reflection and self-discovery, understanding your unique characteristics, values, and strengths, and recognizing what is true for you. The end of this process is a decision on the path you will take. And it’s a big decision. I will use myself and our organization as a case study in this class to illuminate the lessons and activities we ask you to complete.

Case Study – Practical Academics

My journey began in my second career. To be a hands-on dad, I moved from the corporate world, where I was a senior manager in tech businesses, to become a high-school teacher. In my time teaching, I learned that most high schools had not progressed much since my school days in the 1970s – too many kids were not engaged in their learning and went on to live disengaged lives. Picture this: These young, impressionable minds, watching what adult society gives as its best to the generations of tomorrow. The kids see the problems, they see the marginalized and the underserved kids, and they judge us for all of our strengths and weaknesses. Lifelong disengagement and cynicism is born here. Witness employee disengagement in today’s workforce.

When I left teaching in 2017, I decided that it was time for my legacy career, and after some reflection, research, and review, I decided what I wanted to do in my last career. I had a purpose rooted in who I am as a person. In my case, I choose to fight against wasted lives. To do that meant getting people engaged in learning and developing all aspects of their lives. I created a video to express that purpose:

Collateral Damage

Purpose Statement: To minimize wasted lives, we develop highly educational models that engage all participants in their learning experiences.

I recalled that moment in my dad’s bedroom and reflected on my experience as a high-school teacher. It took me 55 years, a second career, and about eight jobs to come to that point in my life. I looked back at what moved me throughout my life. I’ve always been attracted to projects that had impact, and now it was time to develop my own. During the process of creating the business, I took the Gallup Strengths Finder assessment. My top five strengths aligned perfectly with how I wanted to form the company: Strategic, Learner, Maximizer, Achiever, Command.

Now, let’s discover what grabs you by the heart and helps you choose your purpose.

The Heart-Check – Portfolio of Passions

Our first exercise is called “Portfolio of Passions.” Your portfolio of passions is a collection of feelings, ideas, things, activities, stories, movements, dreams, anything that gives you an emotional “zing.” What makes you angry? What makes you cry? If you are moved, then it means something to you.

“Find the things in life that make you cry. That makes you feel. Because they’re what make you human.”

– Joseph Adama, in the show Caprica

Start by writing out what comes to mind from your heart. What has moved you in the past? What has triggered your feelings? These triggers are signs and should not be buried. Own them, so they don’t own you. Keep post-its handy, a journal by your bed, talk with those who know you best. How you assemble and display the collection is up to you: A journal, a vision board, a website, expressed through your art, or perhaps a manifesto or an essay. Use whatever form you like. Create a collage of the best ideas, images, values, strengths, and goals you come across.

Sometimes our passions are rooted in our early childhood, personal traumas, and/or key life events. I am an adoptee with the unfortunate experience of divorce when I was four. I am sensitive to abandonment, rejection, exclusion. Everyone is susceptible to these slights, but I am perhaps a bit more sensitive than most. In my case, I can see a direct connection from my early childhood to my passion – reducing wasted lives. This trait is a part of me; it will never be “fixed,” my work is to be conscious of these traits and not let them negatively impact my life or burden me with shame. One way to keep this in front of me is to channel these sensitivities into work, turn the pain into art. Others have based careers on significant life events— the death of a loved one or an injustice against a group. What are the critical formative influences or events in your life that inspire your passion?

Don’t worry if the pieces are your original work, only that they move you deeply. We all stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us. So give credit where credit is due. What pushes your buttons? What sets you off? What do you wish you would have invented? Collect the best of the best. Your unique combination of elements is your original product. Build it over time. Start it and take it as far as you can for now. Put it away and come back to it. Nurture your dreams, add some value, and leave your mark on the world!

Action Steps

  • Create your portfolio of passions in a format of your choice (journal, vision board, etc.); Gather things that move you, wrongs that need to be righted, benefits that need to be shared, fires that need to be lit, stories that cry out to be told. Use your peripheral mental vision and pay attention to what comes to you from intuition, inspiration, prayer, mediation, and dreams.
  • Rank order and prioritize your passions. Makes notes about how these might shape and inform your career decision.
  • Craft a short purpose statement out of the top passions of your life.

In this lesson, we looked inward at your emotional reality, what deeply moves you, and derived a purpose statement. In the next lesson, we’ll look outward at the problems and opportunities in the world, at the values you hold dear, and help you craft a vision statement.

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