Can Our Work Do It All? Sustain Us, Define Us, and Inspire Us?


Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. –Steve Jobs


Yesterday was my last day at my day job, as a tech writer for a government contract. It’s a standard J-O-B: Monday through Friday 8–5 schedule, in a cubicle in a big office building, with a bunch of other folks also working in cubicles… very similar to most office jobs the world over.

There’s really nothing wrong with it. It’s a good job. It serves the US Military, so I feel good about being of service in a small way to those who serve and sacrifice for the United States.

Yet, because it’s not my calling, it’s relegated to that category of “day job”—meaning work for a paycheck first (and to a certain extent, only).

It’s Not the Work, It’s the People

I don’t want to diminish the work I’ve been doing, or the work that those I’ve worked with are doing. It’s certainly valuable work, serving a need.

But what has really made the job is my colleagues: they are really good people. They are the reason the job has been so pleasant, and why I’m sad to leave even though my new opportunity is so amazing. (More on that below…)

They are interesting, fun, enjoyable people because they do great work day after day, and they each have full lives outside of that work. I’m reminded of a saying that Marjorie Scardino, the former CEO of my old company, Pearson, used to say: “Profits sustain us; they don’t define us.”

(She was talking about the fact that Pearson’s work wasn’t just to make a buck, but it was also in business to support actions that bettered education and access to education for people around the world. And while I still struggle with the whole overblown industry that is educational assessment, I can stand behind the idea of improving access to and outcomes from education, for every kid, and every adult. I stand behind the Why – just don’t particularly like Pearson’s How…)

But Marjorie’s statement rang again in my head as I was thinking about the people I’m leaving, and the reason I enjoyed their company: their work sustains them; it does not define them. Even though they are software developers and network engineers and project managers and business analysts, these are not the only roles they embody. They are also parents and spouses and family members. They are athletes and coaches. They are golfers and fishermen and gamers and musicians and beer connoisseurs. They are passionate about lots of things, including the work they do each day.

So I’m sad to be leaving. Not the work so much, but this group of fine people who made the work enjoyable.

I bet the same is true for you, in the job you are working now, even if (or perhaps especially if) the work you’re doing is not what lights your soulfire.

But What If It Can…?

One of the reasons we love the people we work with is because they’re just like we are: doing work that sustains them and their lifestyles, but does not define who they are as people.

The difficulty comes when we accept that as the only path available to us. How many of us are stuck thinking that work is “tolerate our day jobs and live for the weekends, while saving to live out our dreams and pursue our passions in retirement”? Is that what we want for ourselves? Is that what we want for our kids?

What if our work could both sustain us AND define us? What if we could do work that lights us up, fits our strengths, serves those people we’re meant to serve, and allows us to live the lives we truly want to live?

Too Good to Be True?

Because we’ve heard that same message for so long, and because saw our parents “sacrifice” so that we could have a better life than they did, it’s sometimes difficult to think differently. That’s true even when we realize that we don’t really have it any better than our parents did. Sure, we might earn more money, but we also have bigger cars, bigger houses, more material possessions (and the storage units to put them in)…

But are we really happier than they were? Or are we just trading our time and souls for dollars, just like they did? Maybe even MORE than they did?

Thinking differently is what we must do in order to choose differently, and acting differently is what we must do to achieve differently.

The first step is to question those assumptions we have grown up with, and to seek out a different possibility…

Where Do We Find a Roadmap to Different?

If you are curious about finding work that sustains and defines, that serves others and inspires us—I have a great place for you to visit—a place focused on helping you find and do work you love, have an impact, and change the world for the better; with some great tools to help you figure out your passion, your goals and your action plans to make your impact; and an awesome community of seekers just like you who are finding or creating their own definition of successful work.

That community? Live Your Legend. There’s no other place on the internet quite like it. I’ve followed other thought leaders, read other blogs, taken other courses. You have too, I’m sure. But for me, none have had the impact on my own life that LYL has. I owe Scott Dinsmore, LYL’s founder, a tremendous debt. Even though he’s no longer with us, the community he built continues to change lives every day.

So how do I repay that debt? I pay it forward…

…by doing great work, for the Live Your Legend community and company both.

That’s right—what began as a volunteer opportunity supporting Live Your Legend Local (the in-person meetup revolution) has grown into a full-time role, running day-to-day operations at LYL HQ, coordinating the team, and helping plan and deliver new projects (and continuing to support LYL Local!). This mix of responsibilities not only suits my particular talents and experience, but my contributions support a cause that’s dear to my heart: helping people find and do work they love that makes a positive impact in the world.

Doing work that lights me up and that supports my family, too? It’s better than words can express. It’s good work that sustains AND defines, that serves AND inspires.

My story is just one of many you’ll find at Live Your Legend. There are many folks, at all stages of the journey of finding their great work/right livelihood/true calling. I encourage you to spend some time on the website, or on one of the Facebook Groups, or at one of the in-person meetups happening around the globe each month. See if the community is right for you.

Your own great work is out there, waiting for you. I know it. It’s up to you to take that first step.

Unsure what that is? Start here. Or here. Or here.

And I’ll see you on the inside!


If you’d like additional resources and encouragement to help you craft your own heroic life and legendary work, be sure to subscribe by entering your email in the box in the sidebar to your right. You’ll get your own copy of the Be Your Own Hero manifesto, updates from the blog, and other subscriber-only tools and goodies.

[Photo courtesy of Jeremy Segrott (cc)]

4 thoughts on “Can Our Work Do It All? Sustain Us, Define Us, and Inspire Us?

  1. Ellen

    Congratulations on the move!! The people at my work are what sustains me, too. LYL is such a great community and miso glad they now have your full time focus!! Looking forward to great things! 🙂

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