There are two types of work in this world. The first is the laborious kind, which I call “work with obligation.” It’s work that we do because of a contractual obligation. The second – very different – type of work that we do is “work with intention.” When we are working with intention, we toil away endlessly – often through the wee hours of the morning – on projects we care about deeply. Whether it is building an intricate replica model of an ancient ship, or pulling an all-nighter to write a song or map out an idea for a new business, you do it because you love it.
If you can put “work with intention” at the center of your efforts, you’re more likely to make an impact in what matters most to you. So, how do we find (and foster) work with intention in our lives and projects?
Over the years, I have met many creative leaders and entrepreneurs that have made an impact in their respective industries. No surprise, they love what they do. But when I ask probing questions about their career paths, it becomes clear that their good fortunes were not predestined. Aside from lots of hard work, great creative careers are powered by an intersection of three factors: Genuine Interest, Skills, and Opportunity.
The same thinking applies to successful creative projects. The magic happens when you find the sweet spot where your genuine interests, skills, and opportunity intersect.
1. Your Genuine Interests
What fascinates you? What topic do you like to discuss the most? Most legendary creative careers start with a genuine interest in a particular field. Perhaps it’s film, coffee, or airplane travel. A genuine interest is not about what promises the most economic gain. On the contrary, it is a topic that trumps economic concerns because you love it so much.
While money is important, the drive toward remarkable achievements comes from a deeper place. To understand the symptoms of work performed without genuine interest, look no further than abandoned projects and the malnourished careers of middle managers that count down to 5pm. It’s not pretty.
Attempting greatness without a genuine interest in the field is like running a marathon after fasting. Remarkable achievements are fueled by genuine interest.
Attempting greatness without a genuine interest in the field is like running a marathon after fasting.
2. Your Key Skills
What are your skills and natural gifts? Do you have a knack for math or storytelling? Perhaps you possess a unique compassion for the human condition? Take an inventory of what you know or could easily learn. The skills you have are a helpful indicator for the opportunities that are most likely to flourish under your leadership. Of course, skills alone are insufficient. But, when paired with a genuine interest and a new opportunity, your innate capabilities can truly shine, opening the path to success.
3. Your “Opportunity Stream”
The third factor that plays into every successful career is opportunity. Unfortunately, this is often where we get stuck, discounting the potential opportunities that surround us as inadequate. There is no such thing as equal access to opportunity. Old boy networks and nepotism run rampant in all industries. And most opportunities are entirely circumstantial. As such, you must simply define “opportunity” as an action or experience that brings you a step closer to your genuine interest.
Opportunity is less about leaps forward and more about the slow advance. Most folks I meet recall their greatest opportunities as chance conversations. This is why personal introductions, conferences, and other networking efforts really pay off. Just surrounding yourself with more activity will inherently increase your “opportunity stream” – the chance happenings that lead to actions and experiences relevant to your genuine interests.
Just surrounding yourself with more activity will inherently increase your ‘opportunity stream.’
Working at the ISO (Interest, Skills, Opportunity) Intersection
As you contemplate your next career move or a new project, you should take the intersection of your genuine interests, skills, and opportunities into consideration.Contemplate the three circles of the Venn diagram above – one circle encompasses your genuine interests; one, your skills; and one, the stream of opportunities available to you. An intersection between just two of the circles doesn’t cut it. A love for basketball and a connection to an NBA scout won’t help you if you lack the skills to play ball. You need to find YOUR trifecta.
When you engage with a project that finds this intersection, you’ve entered your zone of maximum impact. In such a state, you are a potent force of nature – your avocation becomes your vocation. You can work with full conviction, without ambiguity, and you can transcend your reliance on short-term rewards and societal approval.
When you engage with a project that finds the intersection, you’ve entered your zone of maximum impact.
As leaders, we must help our partners and employees find work at the ISO intersection. Legendary managers seek to understand the genuine interests and skills of their employees, and are constantly trying to create opportunities within the intersection.
Want to change the world? Push everyone you know to work within their intersection. Mentor people to realize their genuine interests, skills, and to capitalize on even the smallest opportunities that surround them. When it comes to your own career, make every decision with a constant eye for work in the intersection.
A career of “work with intention” is the kind that moves industries forward. Do it for yourself and for the rest of us.