📻 — Avoiding the Traps of Finding Personal and Professional Fulfillment

Morning yeniverse!

It’s “Turkey Day” here in the US and that means that, for some folks, today (and tomorrow) off from work. But don’t worry! The #yenFM 🚂 continues to chug along!

Today, though, is a lighter issue… a more personal one.

To infinity & community,

— john


When I first started writing this newsletter I beat myself up pretty badly — I cycled through a number of repeating anxieties, like:

  • No one wants to read another email newsletter…
  • No one wants to read another newsletter… especially on community…
  • No one will care… or read it… or subscribe…
  • Yada, yada, yada…

This is especially difficult when, thanks to the internet, we get consistent high-light reels of everyone else’s success — jealousy stinks and I had a fit of it earlier this week:

Gratefully, even this morning via @wes_kau, I’ve been reminded that basing my career decisions off of other people’s feelings (and what other people think) is, always and forever, a bad idea.

And then I realized that I had written about this exact thing nearly 7 years ago to the date when I was writing about “the comparison trap” that we all have experienced:

You know what I’m talking about because you may have done in just a few minutes ago (or at least once today and multiple times this past week). You and I took a look at someone else’s project, someone else’s blog, someone else’s venture or business and you said to yourself (or aloud), “they are succeeding where I am failing” and you pity your own circumstance and fortune.

If you’re anything like me then you may have even taken the thought a step further and gone so negative that you actually considered quitting and giving up on your own work because of the comparisons that you made.

You feel utterly defeated and you start seeing the track of cynicism and extreme doubt crop up. You feel joyless around the things that have given you joy even if only a few hours ago you were feeling unstoppable. It was as if this new piece of news, this new piece of information shattered your worldview in an instant.

The solution? I have found that processing these thoughts aloud with a trusted partner (my spouse as “Community Zero”) is how to best encounter (and overcome) the feelings of the moment — she continues to do this daily and I’m so very grateful for she has seen and endured many things.

The years of practice have produced, thankfully, marked improvement as I am able to better and more quickly see these moments for what they are and, as a result, I’m able to move more quickly through the emotional process and thereby reducing the chance of unnecessary collateral damage.

My office, converted to practice meditation

Point is… I’m grateful and I am particularly reminded during this time and season of the year of the many blessings that I (and many of us) do have: My family is in good health and despite the challenges of raising 3 children, my wife and I are committed to one another to see it to the end and support one another in that shared goal.

Professionally, I have very meaningful and fulfilling work that aligns the things that I enjoy with the skills that I have developed and that, thankfully, match a few clear and obvious needs of the world.

Now, this hasn’t always been the case and I have spent the majority of my career struggling to “find my place” and, if I’m to be entirely candid, to just fit in with everyone else.

Of course, the moments where I’ve had the chance to fit in I’ve inevitably blown it, either getting outright dismissed because of bad behavior or because I decided that I simply had enough and quit, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad reasons — I’ll own all of them at this point and I don’t like to live with regret.

And probably, very much like you, I’ve never, really, wanted to fit in, but, I definitely want to be respected, just like most of our yenizens in the yeniverse. This isn’t a guess; it’s a fact as I’ve come to know many of you and we both know that you don’t “fit the mold” in any way, shape, or form — you could never do that if you tried!

I think most folks in the “community space” are like this and we’ve struggled to model what our “career paths” are “supposed” to be. Sometimes, it falls under terms like “startup” or “entrepreneur” or maybe we can get fancy and say “creator” or “builder” or even, maybe, have a title like “Chief Community Officer” (bleh).

We’re into people. We’re into relationships. We’re into community. There’s not really a good title for that. Ever. We sometimes play the role of counselor, unofficial therapist, friend, trusted confidante, ally, or even nemesis when we must. We do what we need to do to help our communities thrive — that’s just our jam.

But, that’s not always useful from a career “pathing” perspective.

We all deserve fulfillment in our lives.

But finding how that plays out specifically in the professional world, again, isn’t easy. That’s why diagrams that show the alignment of joy, skill, and needs (personally and professionally) have helped me make decisions about what I say “Yes” to and what I should entirely avoid, if I can help it.

Sadly, many of us have experienced these “traps” that looked so good but ultimately fall woefully-short:

  1. Joy plus skill but without addressing a real, meaningful need can ultimately end up feeling hollow and unfulfilling from both a personal and professional perspective. As relational creatures we are fundamentally designed to support and help one another succeed — that’s what community is all about and how it actually functions as we are stronger and more successful together. And, it’s how you got to where you are today! You didn’t get to where you are without the help of others. Offering our very best (skills) to (and in the service of) others (need) can actually be quite rewarding (joy) in and of itself. This is how we define what a yenizen really is.
  2. We all have skills that we do not enjoy using but many of these skills are ones that people will pay for — sometimes, quite a bit of money (but not in all cases). For instance, manual data entry or janitorial service are things that most of us can do and that address a real (business) need, but may kill many of us emotionally and psychologically if this were to be our entire career. Many artists have side-hustles to support their main passion which may not always cover the bills. The dream, for some, is to have the art, itself, provide fully for their needs. This is the “skill + need – joy” trap. The term “dead end job” or feeling “stuck” is often a close bedfellow.
  3. Finally, the “joy + need – skill” trap is an equally-difficult trap to avoid because there are a lot of things that we really enjoy doing that also addresses a real need but that doesn’t maximize financial output. For instance, donating your time to visit a nursing home can bring you immense satisfaction (and meets a visceral need!) but it does not pay you for use of those skills in that particular context. We all have a few friends who are “professional volunteers” but who struggle to make ends meet and we watch them endlessly give themselves to others without really taking care of their own (financial) needs. Bitterness, resentment, and burnout can occur as well as a sense of unending restlessness because these investments can actually actually “bankrupt” us over a long-period of time.

What is my proposed solution to avoiding these traps? Healthy relationships. Healthy communities.

In other words, we all need more folks in our lives who are willing to talk about these career challenges and make themselves available to process the ups and downs of community leadership.

A rewarding career (and personal life) starts with meaningful and intentional relationships — I hope we can all make 2021 a year where we can look back at it (via 2022) and say, without hesitation:

I have richer, deeper, and more intimate relationships now than I did last year. I feel more loved and more known than ever before.

And although I may not be in the perfect role or on the perfect career path, I have the right folks around me who are advocates for my success — I do the same for them.

Yenizen of 2022

That is my hope for all of us in 2021, for every yenizen in the yeniverse! Together, we can help one another avoid the enticing but ultimately unfulfilling traps on the road to finding purpose.

Two things as I close:

  1. Send this post to someone you know who has struggled this year with their career. Give them a bit of love and support today.
  2. Tell me how I can help you in 2021. Reply to this issue and tell me your story, your path, your process in 2020. Then, tell me your world-dominating plans for community development… and how I can help.

I’m listening…


Also, five (5!!!!!) great community-centric books listed in the yeniverse:

  • People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams
  • Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds
  • Badass: Making Users Awesome
  • Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World
  • Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Thank you for contributing!!