It’s not a surprise that people want fulfillment in our personal and professional lives. It can mean different things for each of us. For one person, it may be having a big house by the beach or traveling the world. For another, it could be helping poor children in Africa.
Regardless of what it means to an individual, I think there are three stages to achieving the highest levels of fulfillment in our careers and lives. The first stage is centered on “me”. In this stage, we invest in ourselves. We focus on gaining as much knowledge, skills and experience as possible, so we can achieve the title, salary, possessions, status and happiness we aspire for. The exact end goal may be different for each of us but the common part is that it’s always entirely focused on ourselves. Many, if not most people spend their lives focused on this stage.
The second stage is when in addition to yourself, you start to think about helping others. Practically speaking, you may start to mentor a new team member, coach a sports team, volunteer your time or engage in your community in other ways. In this stage you are continuing to invest in yourself but also start to give back. And finally, the third stage is entirely about giving back and not about you anymore. This is the stage in which we see some of the most successful people like Bill Gates donate their wealth and devote their time to philanthropic efforts.
Not everyone will have the opportunity to reach this third stage but I’d like to suggest that at minimum, we should proactively manage our lives and careers to make sure that we don’t stay stuck in stage one. I don’t mean to discredit stage one or imply that it’s bad or selfish. It’s incredibly important for us to invest in ourselves as much as possible early on, so we can be in a position to give back overtime. If you are a new college graduate starting out your career for example, it is completely appropriate to focus your time and energy on building yourself. At some point in your career though, it’s time to start thinking about others. And while not all of us will get to enjoy a part of our lives entirely focused on serving others, the more we can move in that direction over time, the more fulfilling our lives will be.