Never Done - Sustaining Your Career
Last week I wrote about the power of one word, and how even in its brevity, just one singular word has the power to be extraordinarily impactful. When I used to write a personal blog, I would often reach out to friends and colleagues and ask them to share one word with me - with no context as to why they shared it. I would riff on that word and my interpretation of it and then circle back with the individual who shared it. Not only did it offer me a fantastic creative challenge, but also allowed me the opportunity to connect with my friends by sharing our own perspectives on what the word meant to each of us.
Last week, after reading that post, one of the smartest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with responded by reminding me of a word he had shared years ago during one of those exercises. And then he selected a new word as his mantra for the year: sustainability. While I will be sure to connect with him after this post to gain a better understanding of his thoughts on sustainability, here is what struck me when I read that.
First, my mind went to the conventional definition. These days, sustainability often refers to the focus of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of our future generations. It often encompasses economic, environmental and/or social aspects. Sustainability is also a key factor in today’s business ethics, as much of the public has responded with intolerance about long term damage caused by short term profits. And while those may be elements most associated with this word, it’s not what I tend to think of. Rather, my mind went to my own personal sustainability and replacing it the two words, ‘’never done.”
To me, “never done” is about our ability to never stop learning and growing. It’s about that part of ourselves that is insatiably curious and always in search of a better solution. When you say those two words with a passionate, sustainable lens of personal development, it can be downright energizing. I have built a career based on the notion of “never done.” Given that I’ve been playing this role since I was in my 20s, my measure of personal growth and success has largely come by challenging myself to hold the bar (very) high on what can be accomplished each year to make the companies I work for amazing places to work. I don’t want to follow the best practice. I want to BE the best practice. To live this way, I embrace there will be points in time of accomplishment; but I will never, ever be done attempting to learn, grow, and develop the work I love. And to keep pace like this for years on end, one needs to find a way to make it personally sustainable.
However, if you change the tone of the phrase the other direction (as in, “Ugh!!! I’m never done!”) it takes on a negative, exhausting and just downright unsustainable connotation.
I care about our world and leaving it in a better place for my kids. I am doing what I can to take care of the planet and live sustainably in the more current, traditional sense of the word. However, I care deeply about pacing myself and holding the bar high without completely burning out. When I was at the start of my career and falling in love with the rather addictive chaos that comes with hypergrowth, I literally went to the extent of sometimes sleeping under my desk and giving up all semblance of a life outside of work in pursuit of learning and attempting to add impact. Outsiders warned me my lifestyle wasn’t sustainable. Insiders, however, fueled this behavior because we shared a similar passion and ethos. Now zoom ahead nearly thirty years. I still feel remarkably energetic and inspired by my work. I have also evolved my understanding and embracing of the importance of having a life outside the office; I still work my butt off, but my days of sleeping in my office are long gone. I’ve found to ways to evolve making the hypergrowth needs of my company, my passion for what I do, and my need to do it in a way that is sustainable for me. Fortunately, Rapid7 provides me with an environment where I can achieve all of it.
I am looking forward to what my old friend meant when he offered up the word sustainability. I am even more interested, however, on how each of us balances the need to meet achieve our audacious goals while not completely running ourselves into the ground in the process. My work and personal life have always had an incredibly blurry line dividing them, and I’ve never subscribed to anyone else’s definition of work|life balance. What has worked and motivated me all these years might not work for anyone else. For me, it’s sustainable.