While in college I was doing homework with a friend, and he asked me how I was doing. I replied like I always have: “I’m doing good”. He smirked and replied “only Superman does good Jon”. Aside from being a wise guy, he was implying that I used the word good in the wrong context. The word good has a few different meanings but in this case it means something that is morally correct. Technically he was right. Superman does good by rescuing those in danger and at that very moment I was not doing good. I was just doing homework. His comment stuck with me for some time and from then on I made it a point to change my response to this small talk question to: “I’m doing well”. These days I think more and more about this expression in the context of my professional life. Am I doing good, or just doing well?
The concept of morality is central to being able to answer this question. And of course, morality is an extremely complicated concept- which is why it makes for a great blog post! Don’t worry, I’ll be brief this time. When you’re young, morality tends to be pretty black and white- doing your homework is right, missing school is wrong, etc. Simple. At such an early stage in life, morality is fairly universal; it’s the same for everyone. But as time goes on morality starts to become much more personal. Decisions such as where to live or what company to work for do not necessarily have a right or wrong answer for everyone. The answer depends on your personal values.
Personal values are the things that motivate you, the things that are important to you, the things that make you tick. Personal values guide you in deciding what is right and wrong for you. In a sense, personal values make up who you are. When your work is aligned with your personal values, this is what I call “doing good”.
Growing up is all about learning what your personal values are, so you can make decisions for yourself. For me, this is was and still is the hardest part of growing up. This is an extremely personal journey and involves looking deep inside. I've found the most effective way to learn my personal values are through experiences. Lots and lots of experiences. Trying something new and loving it is a great indicator that this new thing is something that motivated me and is a part of my personal values. Conversely hating something new is a great indicator that it is clearly not part of my personal values.
After spending some time experiencing many new things and thinking I had a handle on my personal values, I soon learned that personal values can (and will) change over time. When I was in high school I had a part time job that provided some pocket change. This pocket change went towards paying for a movie ticket or dinner out with friends- the things that were important to me. Today my pocket change still goes towards the things that are important to me, but those things have changed- instead I fund my retirement account and am saving for a home.
Ok. So there is no universal right or wrong answer to life decisions. And the only way to determine if something is right or wrong for you is to understand your personal values. And if your work is in alignment with your personal values then you are “doing good”. Simple enough.
Now back to the question in the beginning of this post- am I doing good or just doing well?
Right after graduating college I had very high hopes and aspirations. I wanted to do it all, and all at once. I wanted to work for a world class company, I wanted to get paid well, I wanted to work on impactful projects and I wanted to make a positive difference in the world. I derived these personal values from my experiences in college and was ready to start finding what I was looking for. As you may guess, I was a bit too ambitious in hoping to find all of these things at once, let alone in my very first work experience. I quickly learned to have all of these things at once I would have to make tradeoffs- some of which I was not necessarily willing or ready to make. Through this experience my personal values shifted and so did my plans. I decided to satisfy my personal value of making a positive difference in the world outside of work by taking on some volunteer activity. For a few years I was a mentor for my high school’s FIRST robotics team, later I became a big brother for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island, and most recently I am a volunteer mechanical engineer for ArdenVent, a non-profit building low cost ventilators. The volunteer activities have changed over the years but I have always remained involved in some form of volunteerism. It makes me tick, motivates me, and is important to me. It is one way I know I am doing good.
As I approach the new year I keep in mind that my personal values have likely changed since the last time I have evaluated them. It’s extremely important that I re-evaluate my personal values on a regular basis because it’s hard to give my all when my work is not aligned with my personal values. When my work is aligned with my personal values I become passionate. This is when work stops feeling like an obligation and more like a reward. These moments are another way I know in my heart I am “doing good”.
Your work does not define who you are, but it is an extension of who you are. If your work isn’t allowed to reflect who you are, then are you really “doing good”?