The Work We Are Called To Do

Here we are, near the end of 2019. 

The other night, my son was in bed with me when he started to talk about why women aren’t going to be president anytime soon. And it took me a minute to tune in to his idea, my eyes starting to form a beady-eyed squint. A full minute before turning to my husband to ask, “He’s just yanking my chain, right?” 

That 60 seconds where I was working myself up (edging up to the moment where steam might come out of my ears like a trite comic-strip) felt like a lifetime. But it was so short. So. Darn. Short. 

And that had me thinking about time — and the passing of it. 

It was 10 years ago that I shut down Rubicon. I really believed my career was over. “Over, over,” I would have said to any of my buds back then.

I had this blog back then, too. In fact, I had three: one personal, one about market trends, and one for my company. 

It felt weird to just stop writing and it didn’t cost very much to keep going. I decided to integrate my different writing fragments, so as to not lose them. It still all resides (nearly 15 years’ worth of posts) on this site. 

I called that decision “integration matters”, and wrote about it here. Re-reading that post just now gave me the shivers; looking backward, I can see a stepping stone of how I got here, writing to you today. 

I kept on writing. Not because of any outcome, but because it felt like something worth doing. 

It was actually writing in my pajamas (with no intention behind it) that led to my first HBR article. Then later, in my first Harvard-published book, I coined the term Onlyness as the most fundamental unit of value creation in an ideas economy. 

I couldn’t have planned any of that. Nor could I have expected to be ranked today among the top 50 management thinkers who are shaping the future of work. Nor that I would now get to work with leaders across industries to enable Onlyness at work. Which is what I’m currently being invited to do.  I couldn’t imagine an editor writing to me asking if I could write for him after reading my blog.

I could not (and would not) have dreamed of any of this back then. And, maybe I didn’t need to. 

What I needed to do was in front of me. 

Most of us underestimate what we can do in 10 years and overestimate what we can do in a month.

Most of us underestimate what we can do in 10 years and overestimate what we can do in a month. We think we need to control things when really we just need to create things. 

Maybe we need to let all our expectations go and just do the work we are called to do. To do it with our whole heart. And let that (not timelines or recognitions) be how we measure progress. 

And with that reflection, I want to end by wishing you all the merriest moments during this winter season. I hope you are surrounded by those who see you and are inspired by what you do.  

Certainly, I am grateful to have you as part of this community. Grateful beyond words. 

I usually sign off with a prompt for how to put a column into practice.

Can I ask you (if you’re willing) to share a story of your own about the passing of time? Maybe a reflection of the past decade on the passing of time? Or on the work, you are called to do? 

6 Replies

  1. Nilofer, thank you for your post. I have too been reflecting on “what I am called to do” lately. Several big number milestones hit this year – 10 years being truly self-employed, 20 years living in the same house, 30 years married to my loving wife. In all of these buckets I am called on to do similar and different things. Similar – to be in service to others (Which Tim Cook recently cited as the reason for living!), to be a good service provider in my work, a good neighbor and above all to be a good husband. Different – I suppose there are things in each bucket that are different but I think being consistent as a human being is more important. We are called on to be who we are and to constantly improve that being…Your blog has inspired me to write one of my own! Cheers, Dave Arnold.

  2. 3.5 years ago, I broke my neck in a bike crash. I had been in a holding pattern in life for a few years by then, but the crash gave me a chance to re-evaluate my life and how I was finding meaning. Despite a prestigious high paying job at Google, I felt unfulfilled.

    Later that year, I met a woman and we fell in love. We got married last year and had our first child a year ago. Her love and support has been transformational for me.

    I also committed to exploring new ways to help people. I trained and certified as a coach, and left Google this summer to build my executive coaching practice. I still reflect on your advice on a walk and talk this spring to consider the question of “who do I serve?”

    In the summer of 2016, I thought I was going to live my life alone, pursuing accolades in a tech career I was finding increasingly meaningless. As I end 2019, I am in a happy fulfilling relationship, learning the joys of parenthood, and love my work of coaching in helping people find their way forward out of their limiting beliefs. More change in the last three years than in the previous decade! Funny how that works – when the conditions are right, things can change fast!

    1. I find that question so helpful for defining one’s north; to not think of what you want but whom (or what) do you serve. Grateful to hear your latest and that you’re now living and working with more meaning is … well, excuse the pun, meaningful!

  3. HI Nilofer, thanks for the provocation. Eight years ago I was called to the work of coaching. In that process, I was coached to find my Intent, which is #MakingPotentialPossible. It was only some time later I realised that this was for oneself as well as the broader community. I’ve always written, but not as a daily practice, but over two years ago I started posting daily and now have over 800 daily posts, over 400,000 words. Like you, I write simply because it feels like it is worth doing. Now, through my writing, I have met quite a number of thinkers I have greatly admired for some time (including yourself), and the writing feel like one way in which, through sharing learnings and connecting with others, potential continues to be made possible, often in unexpected ways. As we close off 2019 and ready to enter 2020, I am calmly excited and energised (if that makes sense, I hope it does!) about the year and years ahead. Am 54 year young and just getting started!

  4. As I approached my 60th birthday this year, I wasn’t sure how that milestone was going to hit me, or how it would cause me to think about my life. When it arrived, the message received was not what i expected; it was “This will be your peak decade, your legacy decade.” And that thought immediately felt true and right. I’ve spent decades gathering experience and expertise, and now I needed to bring it from 1:1 relationships in coaching, to 1:many, in writing and content creation. I’ve started my first project, I’m excited for the future and I look forward to the decade ahead!

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