I’ve just finished watching a really powerful and haunting, yet beautiful documentary called “Jim” about front line journalism and the story of James Foley.
There is SO much that we could talk about in this film, but I wanted to focus in on one small scene about 30 minutes in. The camera breaks away from footage of bombings and images of locals trying to live their lives in war zones, to a French journalist sat at his kitchen table, trying to explain why he does what he does…
“It’s like, here I’m editing pictures, and going to see my friends, and going to have dinner. There’s a point where my life makes no sense. It’s not transcendental.
On the other side, when I’m there, I’m working. I have a mission that is above me.I don’t want to, but it can take my life because I feel complete. I feel like I’m doing something useful.
I think that matters.
What I’m doing matters.
You have to be really stupid to risk your life for three-hundred-fucking-dollars a day. That’s the point. I’m not doing that for the three-hundred-fucking-dollars.
At the very end, I will need to face my life at some point and I just want to be proud”.
I’ve just finished watching it, and it puts all kinds of things in perspective. Not least of all your job, what you do, and why you do it. I rewound that clip a bunch of times just to try and understand what drives someone like that, to put their life on the line, purely for the purpose of telling a story that most other people are afraid to tell. All the journalists in the movie we certainly not doing it for the fame, the money, or to build their “personal brand“. (I hate that term but you understand exactly what I mean when I use it, and you probably know enough people yourself for whom that is sadly their #1 priority).
I work in marketing, which on the surface is a very superficial industry. Image is everything. We talk about branding (personal or otherwise), positioning and USP’s. We try to encourage or “influence” people to care about Product X instead of Product Y. Some brands believe (maybe correctly) that their consumers even have a relationship with them. “We” sell thoughts, ideas and products by telling stories, some of which are true. But like any profession, there is a good side and a dark side.
What you stand for is more important than what you sell.
Some people just want to sell more stuff to people who don’t really need it, spending money they don’t have, hoping to impress people they don’t really “like“. Others want to communicate their thing as fast and efficiently as possible, to a wide enough audience of people who care about that thing. And there are many great “things” which make a difference to peoples lives, where marketing and communication is essential to get the word out. And in some exceptional cases, executives have the foresight to use some of the money they saved via their successful marketing efforts, to invest in worthwhile community projects, charities or foundations.
It reminds me of something I heard Simon Sinek say not long after he gave his much-viewed TED talk Start With Why.
“The goal in business is not to sell to people who need what you have, it is to do business with people who believe what you believe”.
It’s easy to sell to people who need what you have. For hundreds and thousands of years, that’s why markets have existed. And marketers on those market stalls have tried to convince people why their product, though identical to everyone else’s, was actually different / cheaper / better. Thats why I’ve always loved that quote. It says there is more to our professional lives than making money. It speaks to the depth of what drives us, and why we do what we do.
Do our jobs really matter?
I don’t want to go all why-are-we-here and make make this a spiritual thing, because it’s easy to turn sentiment like that into a parody. Even a good parody…
But are the things that are on your to-do list today really going to make a difference to anyone? Do they matter. Really? Hopefully they do. If so, do more of them. And delete or delegate the things that don’t matter.
John Maxwell once told me that the Pareto principle is what separates good people from great people, no matter that their job titles are. We all want to make a difference at some level, but many of us just don’t have the time, money or resources to do it. Time is usually the biggest obstacle. There’s never enough of it.
So this was John’s advice.
To any successful, competitive or motivated person, that is a painful process, because you will be emotionally attached to all ten things on that list. But that’s the point. Maxwell said most people do not have the capacity to obsessively focus on the top two things, they try to find a (compromised) way to do all ten. The photo journalists in the documentary I just watched did the top two, in fact you could argue they only did the top one. But that’s what made them truly great at doing what they did.
“Successful people just do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do”. John C. Maxwell
Most of us don’t have “valuable” jobs that people instantly recognise as making a real impact to people every day. Jobs like nurses, journalists, teachers or emergency services. We may not work for organisations which appear to have deep meaningful purposes at their core, or aspirational mission statements and manifestos that call people to make the world a better place.
But we can all make a difference to someone. In some small way. Every day. Even if it is just for a moment.
So, if like the journalists in the movie, we just asked ourselves more often ~ “Does this really matter?” ~ then perhaps we can go to be a little bit happier each night, knowing that we found meaning in our jobs and (to use a marketing term) “added value” to those around us.