Passion and purpose

I recently gave my second ever lecture to students about my work – not an audience I’m used to! I talked to business students at Weston College as part of a Corporate Social Responsibility module.

Jon stood outside the front of Weston College

How I ended up working in digital accessibility and sustainability isn’t a straight line.

How many of you knew what career you wanted to get into when you were young? I wanted to be a postman. I thought Postman Pat’s got a pretty cushtie job, delivering people joy and drinking cups of tea in the countryside with his cat. Later, I thought I wanted to work in electronics. I’d take apart things like the family radio as a kid and put them back together. (Yes, they still worked!)

Back in my school, we did a test, which unsurprisingly suggested I’d make a good engineer. Felt to me a bit like “You like driving? You like people? Okay: taxi driver.” I mean no disrespect to careers advisors (or taxi drivers), but it helps to have an idea what you want, not just what you’re good at. I hope that careers advice in schools has evolved since then to help young people to start to understand their passions as well are what skills they’re good at. I say “start to understand” because I think this is often expected at too young an age. There are people who go their whole life without knowing what they really want to do, or want out of life.

Eventually, I’d do a project at university working on accessible music software that enabled Disabled musicians to compose and perform music. It was something that I could do as a techie geek to do some good for people, enabling them to access something I love (making music) that perhaps they couldn’t otherwise do. I’d left university with an idea to build web software for Disabled people. I started learning about it online, I joined a little online forum and learned a lot from other really helpful people. I soon became an expert in web accessibility, creating websites built with accessibility in mind.

So, I talked to students about my meandering career path, passion and purpose, digital accessibility, sustainability and ethics, and tried to impart some good advice from it all.

Here’s a bit about what I came up with…

🩺 Look after your health.

I’ve recently had a bit of a health scare (an ectopic heartbeat), which has caused me to make some changes. It should go without saying, but people are generally not as good at looking after themselves as they are looking after others. Make sure you balance work, life and your own health.

🧭 There’s no one right way.

Life changes. You will constantly change. Don’t expect to know all the answers. By all means have a plan, but going with the flow is a valid path through life and work.

There is no one size fits all. Everyone is different. People have different values, drives, needs and preferences. Accept people for who they are and what they give. That goes for yourself, too. Our stories matter. They’re part of our identity. And embracing and respecting each other’s identity is important.

Have a think about what “your way” might look like. Find what works for you. Try things and see what fits. Find a “workstyle” to compliment your lifestyle. Accept that your way is valid. It’s taken me a long time to begin to accept that the way I think about work is the way I believe things should be.

❤️ Be true to yourself.

You should never feel the need to hide from the truth. If you’re true to yourself, you never have to worry about being caught lying about something, or being something you’re not.

❣️ Understand what’s important to you.

Have a think about what values are important to you. But remember that what’s important to you now might not be so important to you later. Priorities change. Values tend not to.

❓ Understand why you do what you do.

By aligning what’s important to you with what you do in work, you’ll find a much greater sense of purpose, meaning and belonging. There’s strong evidence that having purpose and a sense of belonging has a significant impact on your overall health. Purpose provides meaning and nurtures drive in work. It helps you to focus on outcomes and impact rather than trying to be “productive”.

😊 Enjoy what you do.

You’ll spend a lot of your life working. If you’re not excited about what you’re spending your time doing, you’ll find yourself getting bored and disillusioned. If you find you don’t enjoy what you do, it’s a strong indicator that something’s not right.

🤝 Build and use your network.

If you don’t like thinking of it in those terms, build relationships and don’t be afraid of asking for help. You don’t have to be a certified extrovert to network. And I still find asking for help difficult, but I have a greater awareness of when I need help.

What about you?

What would you tell your younger self about work or your career path?