Want to Work on Something Important?

Recently, my inbox delivered the July 2018 Granted message from Adam Grant, Wharton professor of organizational psychology and frequent speaker and author on leadership topics whose books include Originals and Give and Take.  I found this very brief message thought-provoking, as he described the standard self-esteem career evolution as follows:

Phase 1: I’m not important

Phase 2: I’m important

Phase 3: I want to work on something important

(Adams Grant, Granted, http://www.adamgrant.net/newsletter)

What does it mean to work on something important? Think about the difference in the last two phases that we may not always acknowledge once we “have arrived”. Grant encourages our getting the last phase sooner than later; I believe this phase goes beyond “self-esteem” to becoming actionable.  As Grant writes, the sooner you get to wanting to actually work on something important, the sooner you will have impact.  While we must want to work on something important, we then must find our way to start that work. This could be your legacy.

What does it mean to work on something important? It is pretty subjective.  It is unlikely related to the level of recognition or appreciation you will receive for your efforts.  It won’t equate to the number of admirers who give you a “thumbs-up” or “smiley face” for your posts illustrating your work as illustrating your importance.

What does it mean to work on something important?  Various online dictionaries definitions for “important” that better fit the second phase, “I’m important”.  But some imply outcomes more suited to the third phase, indicating actual outcomes tied to “significance” or “value”.  So, significant or valuable to whom?  Still subjective, but at this point it becomes more of a selfless effort.

What does it mean to work on something important?  Working on something important  means different things to different readers.  The recipient of important work could be as granular as an individual or as broad as a profession, population, or community.  If you are ready, reflect on the untapped or underdeveloped opportunities which lie within your reach to make a difference that has significance or value. What skills, knowledge, resources do you need to move ahead?  How do you identify partners to share in accomplishing the work? Prepare yourself now to go beyond the desire to believe you are important to the desire to buckle down and work on the important—contributing to important accomplishments.

What does it mean TO YOU to work on something important?