Why ‘doing work that matters’ doesn’t mean you have to quit your job

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Half a decade ago, I (along with half the world, it feels like) got caught up in the lifestyle business craze when I read Tim Ferris’ The Four Hour Workweek for the first time.

Since then I’ve read dozens and dozens of books on self-help, entrepreneurship, lifestyle design, and more.

And there’s one phrase that has really made the rounds. One that has turned into a bit of a buzzword in books and on the internet. And I totally understand why: it’s inspiring.

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Here’s the phrase: “Do work that matters.”

It comes in lots of different forms. But they’re all screaming (essentially) the same thing: “You spend most of your life working, so quit your job and do work that really matters.”

There’s only one small problem with that.

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Many of these books assume you have to quit your job in order to “do work that matters.”

So a few thousand wantrepreneurs take the advice the wrong way every year, walk into their boss’s office, spout off the optional profanity, and leave the office with zero intention of ever returning.

When they get home, they’re all jazzed up to “do work that matters” so they open up their laptop and…

well…

what? start a blog? start a podcast? try to find a few clients?

And armed with little more than “do work that matters,” they’re thrown into the terrifying world of entrepreneurship.

Does it work out for some people? Definitely.

Could it work for you? Absolutely.

But for a large group of people, they’ve missed the mark. Doing work that matters is not about quitting your job. It’s about optimizing your career (whether you’re an entrepreneur or not) to make the biggest positive difference in the world that you can make.

The point of my post today is not to convince you to stay at a job you hate. Nor do I want to convince you that being an entrepreneur is a bad thing.

What I do want to shed light on today is this:t you don’t necessarily have to quit your day job and venture out on your own to “do work that matters.”

In fact, if doing work that matters is really truly your highest priority, it may be wise for you to work for someone else for a while.

Let me illustrate with a story:

When I graduated from the university, I was a head-strong, type-A, go-getter who was ready to change the world by (I didn’t know it at the time) “doing work that matters.”

I still am.

This is probably because I’m an “old millennial” (the kind born in the first couple years of the “millennial” group). I still don’t understand duckface selfies and I have no desire to be on snapchat. But, as a child, I was told I could do anything I wanted. I was told I was important. And smart. And talented.

So I entered the workforce thinking I knew everything. I thought I was bringing such enormous value to my employer his head was going to explode.

Turns out, I’ve learned more by working for other people than I ever could have learned myself.

And that learning allows me to do more work that matters both independently as an entrepreneur and together with my employer.

How does working for someone else allow me to do more work that matters? Here are just a few ways:

1. I have room to experiment (which means I can grow…fast)

When you’re working with assets of a bigger company (think bigger budgets and more resources) you can experiment and learn more quickly.

What might take me a decade to learn with a smaller audience on my own web site, I can learn in a few months with an audience more than 10 times the size of my own.

And whether you learn while working on your own projects or learn while working for someone else, learning is learning.

And serious learning is an important step of doing work that matters.

How can you impact lives if you’ve never learned how to reach people in the first place?

Even Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech would have been useless if presented to an empty room.

But Doctor King learned how to rally people around him. He learned how to get people fired up about a cause. He learned a million things that ultimately led to his world-changing speech.

Before we can change the world with our work, we have to learn how to reach “the world.” Otherwise, even the best work will go unheard and won’t matter in the slightest.

2. I have room for failure (which means I can learn…fast)

Many entrepreneurs have a dream of “doing work that matters” when they first start their business.

But pretty soon they realize they still have to put food on the table and clothes on their back.

And a funny thing happens when you switch to survival mode in your business.

You stop taking risks.

You stop innovating.

And you turn into one of those entrepreneurs who cares more about finding the next paycheck than doing work that changes your world for the better.

When you work for someone else, you have a little more room for failure. You have a safety net. You have much more room to totally blow it.

So you take risks. Not only at your day job, but in your own business.

And taking big risks can lead to some real breakthroughs when it comes to doing work that matters.

3. I can stand on the shoulders of giants (which means I can reach a lot of people… fast)

Can you guess what the hardest part of entrepreneurship is?

I’ll give you a hint. Look around at all the blogs, podcasts, and books on the topic. How many of them do you see that address problems like “how to spend all your leftover money from your seven-figure business” or “how to be humble when you’re internet famous” or “how to graciously accept a Nobel Prize”?

Mostly zero.

They’re all about how to get started in entrepreneurship, how to find your first 10,000 subscribers, how to make your first $1,000.

Because most entrepreneurs, when they start, they’re nobodies. The hardest part is getting off the ground.

They don’t have any money. No one knows who they are. And they haven’t made a huge impact on the world… yet.

But when you work for the right kind of company, you stand on the shoulders of giants.

You reap the benefits of the work that people before you have done.

And with lots of resources (built over sometimes decades of hard work) you can impact a large number of people.

When you can impact a large number of people, you are more likely to “do work that matters.”

My business vs my job

It’s no secret that I work a day job.

But I’ve talked very little about why I still hang out in a cubicle for most of my day while managing a blog that’s mostly about independence, entrepreneurship, and building a business.

Here’s why: I sincerely want to do work that matters.

For now, my job provides me with some amazing opportunity to impact more lives together with my team than I can impact now on my own or with my small team of writers.

It would take me a decade to build the size of audience I work with at my day job.

Every day, we publish content that makes a positive difference in the world. Which means I get to interact with an audience well over 10 times the size of my personal audience.

The truth of the matter is: I like doing work that matters so much.

It matters to lots of people.

So I balance

I spend lots of time creating content and resources for the Millo audience (I really love you guys!).

I also spend lots of time creating content and resources for the audience I work with at my day job.

I balance.

I find a good mix.

And pairing both scenarios together gives me the biggest opportunity to genuinely “do work that matters.”

If your goal in life is to “do work that matters,” don’t assume right away that you have to quit your day job to pull it off.

You may need to find a new day job, yes.

Or you really may need to quit and start your own gig altogether.

Or you might just need to find a healthy mix that really optimizes your ability to do work that makes a positive difference in the world.

Wherever you do it, I hope you can build a life and a career that allows you to “do work that matters.”

For me, it’s the only way to go.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of this blog. You can contact him via twitter at @prestondlee.

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Comments

  1. Dude I love it. This is the kind of stuff I’m going to spout off in my next job interview when they ask why I’m coming back to the 9 to 5 from freelancing. It sounds a lot better than, “I ran out of money” lol! Thanks Preston!

  2. Great article! Love to hear your point of view, because recently the approach that nearly all people should become entrepreneurs, and immediately after finishing their education (in the best case, in the worst- they don’t need education at all) without any work experience is far from smart or realistic

  3. I think as much as we all want to create work ‘that matters’, at the end of the day we still need to pay the bills. But most people don’t realise that the work you do to pay the bills can matter to – it matters to your client, that’s for sure. And it should matter to you.

  4. Great article! I love reading all your articles! Good info and some of it very inspiring. Thank you 🙂

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