What should I do with my life?

“What do employees want?” What would it take to get more commitment out of them, more ideas out of them, more value out of them?” The panelist chipped in with their ideas about benefits, flextime, daycare, free M&M’s on Wednesdays, stock options, small companies versus large ones, cubicles versus private offices, and various methods of showing standout individuals a little extra appreciation. At this point, the conversation was passed to me.

I leaned forward in my seat. “What do people really want?”

They want to find work they’re passionate about. Offering benefits and incentives are mere compromises. Educating people is important but not enough. We need to encourage people to find their sweet spot. Productivity explodes when people love what they do. We’re sitting on a huge potential boom in productivity, which we could all tap into if we got all the square pegs in the square holes and the round pegs in the round holes. It’s not something we can measure with statistics, but it’s a huge economic issue. It’s a great natural resource that we’re ignoring.

The tone in the room shifted. One by one, CEO’s stood up and shared anecdotes that concurred with my thesis. The value in their companies came from the employees who were passionate about being there. The extra effort came from them. The new ideas came from them. They took it upon themselves to teach and lead others. Was it just that they were driven? Was it just that they were well educated? No, and often those traits were distractions. Often these dedicated people weren’t executives. They could be at any level of the company. They were the company’s sustaining force. Every CEO wanted more of this kind of employee- if only there were a magical way to recruit them. Vague? Yes. Impractical? Not at all.

It’s time to define the new era. Economic growth will not come from one particular sector, or from companies that adopt whatever management method in vogue- this will not be an era of blanket solutions; instead, growth will come one company at a time, from companies that focus on doing what they do, and doing it better.

And in the same way, individual success will not be attained by migrating to a particular “hot” industry, or by adopting a particular career guiding mantra; instead, the individuals that thrive will do so because they focused on the question of who they really are, and from that found work they truly love, and in so doing unleashed a productive and creative power they never imagined. The organizations that fuel this growth are a likely to be in shipping, defense, or education as they are to be in technology. The individuals that power this growth are as likely to be truckers, lab technicians, or teachers as they are to be MBA’s.

Those who are lit by this passion will be the object of envy among their peers, and the subject of intense curiosity. They are the ones who, day by day, will rescue this drifting ship. And they will be rewarded. By money, sure, and responsibility, undoubtedly, but there is no reward more gratifying than enjoying a job well done.”

An excerpt from "What should I do with my life?" by Po Bronson