Like many others, I watched Pixar’s new “Soul” on Christmas Day. And, as usual for Pixar movies, it didn’t disappoint.
Like many of the other Pixar movies before it, this one was all about the story–and the messages. For both old and young viewers.
And, after watching it, the movie’s primary message was one that resonated specifically with me–as a professional working in the communications and social media world.
Allow me to elaborate.
One of Soul’s primary messages is that your life isn’t about “purpose”, but much more about living each day to its fullest. Picking up and embracing the little things. About two-thirds of the way through the movie, Joe, the jazz musician turned middle school band teacher in Soul says: “My only purpose on this planet was to play. It was what I was meant to do and no one’s going to stop me.”
(spoiler alert) At the end of the movie, Joe comes around to a different way of thinking. That his life wasn’t all about being a jazz musician, but instead about all the little moments that he experiences each and every day–including many he had previously overlooked!
This message resonated with me personally, but also as someone who’s worked in the creative field for 25 years.
Why? Because we are mercilessly pressured with two over-arching key messages in our industry: 1) You have to be ambitious; and 2) You always need to be hustling.
Aren’t those the messages we hear every day on LinkedIn? In industry publications? From our peers and bosses?
That first message–you have to be ambitious. We’re constantly feeling the pressure of this one. You need to be VP by age 30. You need to be a manager. You need to make $200,000.
It almost feels like if you’re not an ambitious person in our industry and you don’t want that CMO title that you’re quickly labeled “a failure.” At best, you’re labeled as someone who’s “content” (I got that one earlier in my career). No matter what label people use, it doesn’t have a good connotation.
That second message–you always need to be hustling. This is the insidious message that has permeated all corners of our industry. Folks like Gary V. are at the heart of this one. Now, I’ll be quick to point out there are advantages to the hustle–lots of them. But, if you pull back, as Soul wants you to, and look at the bigger picture of your life, the hustle simply doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it does.
So, if being ambitious and hustling doesn’t matter, what does?
First, this isn’t an either-or equation. You can be ambitious. You can hustle. I don’t think anyone is saying you can’t or shouldn’t do either of those.
But, I do think we miss the forest for the trees a lot of times. And, we forget one simple premise: There are going to be VERY few times in our 30-40-year careers where we’re in a job that we absolutely love. Our “dream job”, so to speak. Isn’t that what those two messages above are driving at? That dream job where we have it all? The power. The money. The title.
On the contrary, few of us will ever experience this. Some of us will get close. Others may have that dream job for a while, only to fall back to jobs that have drawbacks (which, to be precise, is roughly 95% of all jobs).
No, I think the key to professional happiness and “soul-fulness” is simple: There are other ways to fill your professional passion than your day job.
Yes, sometimes that day job will give you that professional happiness. For a bit.
But, for most of your professional life, you’ll have to find it elsewhere. Here are some places I’ve found that “soul-fulness” over my 25 years:
* By volunteering for PRSA. One of the best decisions of my professional life. Joining and volunteering with PRSA led to taking my APR, which led to a board seat–all of which helped me develop a big part of the network of people I know in the industry today.
* By coaching my kids soccer and basketball teams. For any parents who has played sports in their youth, this is a dream come true.
* By teaching at the University of St. Thomas. You get a different kind of satisfaction and fulfillment from teaching that you simply can’t get in your day job.
* By sitting on boards of directors. I sat on boards with MN PRSA and MIMA in the last 10 years. Both led to some of the most meaningful relationships of my professional career.
* By writing this blog! 1,500+ blog posts later, this blog remains my single greatest professional accomplishment. It’s given me creative inspiration for 11+ years now!
* By starting a podcast with a friend. Another creative outlet for me over the last five years. We’ve now produced 140+ episodes of the Talking Points Podcast.
* By starting a training series with a friend. A few years ago, Jamie Plesser and I started sparked, a social media training program. While we decided not to continue it for a variety of reasons, it was super fun to organize with a friend and gave us both a creative outlet outside of our day jobs.
* By starting a conference series with a friend. Many, many years ago, Missy Berggren (now Voronyak), started the MN Blogger Conference. At the time, it was incredibly thrilling to start a conference from scratch.
* By helping organize a national conference. In 2010, I approached Jason Falls about helping organize the social media business marketing track at BlowWorld, a huge social media conference, at the time. Working on BlogWorld gave me juice I wasn’t getting in other parts of my job at the time.
While most of those items above are connected to my “day job”, I didn’t get paid for any of them (except for the teaching gig–and trust me, that’s not a lot). They were all things I did to scratch a creative itch. They weren’t about purpose (again, with the exception of the teaching gig). They weren’t about finding my dream job. They were just things I did that I thought might be fun. They were moments in time.
As Joe might say, they were moments that helped fill my soul.
So, what do those moments look like for you? Many of us find them at home. But, where else? At church? Volunteering? Participating in a hobby?
I guess my main takeaway from Soul was simply this: You don’t have to let ambition control your career. Sometimes, the best careers are those defined by our unique experiences and the people we work with and meet along the way. Sometimes, successful careers aren’t defined by success at all. They’re defined by those little moments along the way.