It is 2016. I have been in my role as VP of customer operations for four years. It is my dream job. And yet, I am restless, searching for growth, searching for something new. I have never had the same role for more than two years. I have been at companies for 10 years, but never in one role for that long. I have my dream job and can’t imagine leaving LinkedIn. Yet, here I am, curious, taking the call.
The recruiter on the phone is pitching me a role. Chief operating officer. It is a hard role to come by and often not a fit for someone with my experience. But this one is perfect. I am just what they are looking for. It is a chance to be part of the executive staff at a rocketing start-up. They need me. They want me. My ego is intrigued, listening, ready to impress. The job is in a different city, two states away—one I have no desire to live in. My daughter has just started high school. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t speak to me for a long time if we moved. I’m telling the recruiter no, shutting the door on my ego. She is very good at her job. She makes one last attempt.
“OK, I hear you. But before you say no, understand that this is going to be the next Uber. It’s a unicorn on a rocket ship. We’re recruiting execs from Google, Apple, and others from the who’s who list in the Valley. So, just take a few days to think about it. And really, think about this: would you do it for life-changing money?”
Ugh. Damn it.
There it is. The choice. The choice between selling your soul and following your heart. Between what we think everyone else wants us to do and what we know to be true. Between ego and our True Self.
It sounds so simple when you’re detached from it, when it’s someone else’s decision. We’re so easily distracted from our destination. Like Odysseus, we chart a course, confident in our outcome. Then, the sirens call us. We’re enchanted by their sweet song. We can hear nothing else. The next thing we know we’re crashed on the rocks, achieving everything we ever wanted, except the happiness we craved in the first place.
I spend the next few days mulling over the age-old question: what would I really do if I won the lottery? Whether that’s the SuperLotto or the start-up jackpot. What would I really do if I didn’t have to work for money? It’s a useful question to regularly ask, regardless of your circumstances. “If I could do anything, what would I do?”
There’s a Japanese concept called ikigai, where your sweet spot lies at the intersection point of four circles, each representing one of the following: What you love to do. What you’re good at. What the world needs. What someone will pay you for.
How many doors of possibilities would open if we didn’t need to worry about the “what someone will pay you for” circle?
Music. Art. Photography. Poetry. Paths not taken because there is no dependable financial stream. I once wanted to move to New York to become a singer, and I never did it, largely because I was worried about the financials.
I do the math. At the end of four years (a typical vesting period for stock grants), assuming I had walk-away money, I’d still be in my early fifties—too young to retire, too restless to just garden or play golf every day.
What would I really do if I didn’t have to work for money? Maybe this was a chance to scratch that artistic itch? But did I really want to turn one of my hobbies into a job?
I decide my lottery job will be at the ikigai intersection of goodness—and I am becoming more clear on what that is for me. If I could do anything without worrying about financial risk and still meet all the other ikigai boxes—what I’m good at, what the world needs, what I love to do—then it would be working with companies to help them be more conscious.
If companies were more conscious, they would treat their customers better. There would be more integrity and trust in the world. If companies and their leaders were more conscious, they would treat their employees better. There would be less trauma and stress. There would be more healing. More creativity. People could be whole. We wouldn’t need to think of our work life as “bad” and the rest of our lives as “good.”
We can bring compassion into everything we do at work, not just because it makes others feel better, but also because it’s a better strategy for success. The research bears this out. We just haven’t quite caught up to it in practice yet. We can help employees find their True Self. Help them find their sound. In doing so, the company can be more successful as well.
During this inquiry—this searching for the answer to “What do I do next? How can I live my life’s mission?”—I have a happy realization. I am already in the best position possible to make change, to have impact, like it had been planned this whole time. Because of my unique set of experiences, skillsets, and interests. Because of who I am at LinkedIn. Because of who LinkedIn is in the world. I don’t need to leave to go somewhere else.
Without fully knowing, I have been working toward this moment for my entire career. Every experience, every struggle and failure and learning and win have all led me to where I am standing now. After twenty-five years, it all makes sense. Now I have a chance to bring my whole self to work.
I stay in my operations role, but I raise my hand and volunteer to be the executive sponsor of our mindfulness program. At this point, we don’t have one, really. We pull together a group of passionate volunteers and set out to create an industry-leading program. I start leading meditation sessions at work. I come out as a meditator. I start to find the language that will make all of these things feel natural, appropriate for the work environment. Blending these two worlds together in a seamless way. I start to spend more and more of my time on this side hustle. It is such a great outlet. Such a pure expression of who I really am.
Scott Shute is the Head of Mindfulness and Compassion at LinkedIn.