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On Purpose and Satisfaction

I’ve been freelance for six years now. It’s not a life for everyone. If you crave stability, regular pay, or the social environment of the office, don’t quit your day job. However, these have been some of the most fulfilling years of my life.

As an independent professional, you have the opportunity to forge your own career path, unlike working in the corporate world, where jobs are defined. In order to know what opportunities to pursue, you must know your purpose. This will guide you toward opportunities that you’ll find fulfilling — and at least as importantly, away from those that will not.

This Venn diagram is adapted from my friend Sarah Dopp’s. I use it as a sort of moral compass when considering my path. To find your purpose, consider three factors: What you’re good at, what brings you joy, and what you can actually get paid for. At the center of that intersection is fulfillment; at the periphery is misery.

Finding Your Purpose, on SeanTimberlake.com

For years I was in product management. I was good at it, and it paid handsomely, but it didn’t really spark joy. This ultimately led to burnout. Consequently I always turn back to writing. I am good at it. I am only truly at peace when I am actively writing. And when I can get paid for it, everything falls into place.

When assessing specific opportunities, I use a slightly different lens, courtesy of another friend of mine, who once sagely told me the three reasons we are compelled to work: To make money (obviously), to do cool things, and to work with good people. When all three things are in place, work is fun, and you feel satisfied. The more of those elements are missing, work becomes tedious, and you are resentful.

 

Finding Satisfaction, on SeanTimberlake.com

Another way I use this chart is as a set of levers. Establishing a pay rate as an independent professional is always a negotiation. If I am angling for a project that involves creating something that compels me and people I want to work with, I may be more flexible on the pay scale. If it is a project that does not speak to my heart, or I have concerns about the work environment, I am far more likely to stick to my guns on pay rate.

Related: I wrote about how to calculate your optimal pay rate over on Dianne Jacob’s site. 

  • The older I get (and I’m getting old… 😉 ) the less I want to do anything I don’t want to do. I used to be motivated mostly financially. Now I’m motivated by freedom of time and what interests me.
    This is a privilege, though, and I know it. There’s a big difference between needing to pay mortgage/rent and trying to find purposeful, meaningful work. I still believe everyone can and should find exactly what it is they are supposed to be “when they grow up” — but it should usually begin as a side-hustle if there are bills to be paid.
    I like the diagrams; they are super helpful.

    • Sean Timberlake

      Exactly. I’m in the same boat — and using these principles helps in trying to aim toward that place where you can be selective and still make enough money.

  • Great diagrams Sean, that sum things up nicely. (You know I’m a sucker for a good Venn…)

    • Sean Timberlake

      Who doesn’t love a good Venn?