Designing Meaningful Work: A Venn Diagram

Lauren Scott has many noteworthy accomplishments under her belt dating back to the implementation of Concordia’s first student association focusing on sustainability. Continuing with her passion in the wellbeing of others, she worked in the non-profit sector as the national spokesperson for an international welfare organization, managing two of Canada’s largest cancer fundraising events to then taking on the Canadian Communications Advisor role for a market-leading wind turbine manufacturer. In addition to her Bachelor’s of Commerce from Concordia, Scott’s education includes a certificate in Reconciliation through Indigenous Education from the University of British Columbia as well as a certificate in the Health Effects of Climate Change from Harvard University. She now works as Marketing Director at Distech Controls where she applies her knowledge and passion to transform climate initiatives into actionable commitments in the smart buildings sectors, where social and environmental responsibility is at the core.

“My immediate reaction after reading Lauren’s piece was a feeling of relief. As a graduating student, it can be overwhelming to think of entering the workforce and giving up a piece of your passion in exchange for a job. Unless you are lucky and find the perfect fit immediately, it’s hard to follow the “straight path”, as she describes, to your perfect career. Lauren presents a new paradigm, describing how we should think in zones instead of a straight path to our future. This idea is narrated with a philanthropic view making the piece relatable for all of us.” Sarah Valliere

Written by Lauren Scott

Stop chasing a linear path, and focus on your zone

I was six years old when I knew that I would be involved in the environmental movement. I had gathered my toys, including prized Archie comics, and set up a garage sale in my parents’ driveway to raise money for the World Wildlife Fund. I do not recall how much my sister and I raised that day, but I do know that these first philanthropic efforts would alter the course of my life. While it was not a direct trajectory over the past 25 years, sure enough, I now lead the global marketing efforts for a pioneer in intelligent and energy efficient buildings, and sit on the board of directors of one of North-America’s leading names in the environmental movement. But how did I know, and how did I get here? 

Social media would tell you that it is quite simple. You have undoubtedly seen them: the brightly-colored posts prompting you to “do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life”. While perhaps inspiring, this sort of content is not exactly actionable. In fact, much of what we are taught in western culture is anchored in the notion of following a straight trajectory from academia into your “calling”. But what if working in your element is less about following a straight line, and more about finding your zone? The following defends the principle that pursuing meaningful work is about navigating your way to that central, intersecting heart of the Venn diagram made up of three key areas: what you are good at, what you love, and what feels right.

Do what you’re good at.

Perhaps the most commonly taught approach, this area is one that we often see addressed within our traditional school systems. The expectation is to expose ourselves to a plethora of courses and materials so as to ultimately have the ability to see where we excel. This education, however, does not have to be housed within the walls of academic institutions. We are officially at a moment in time where ignorance is a choice. We are now spoiled for access to free, quality information. If nothing else, 2020 ignited an explosion of material made readily available online. From free courses offered by top universities to podcasts and webinars with experts in countless fields, you can now dapple in areas one would never have been exposed to. 

An important nuance here is that, when referring to what you are good at, I am speaking about your skills and not necessarily your natural talents. While being born 6’7 might make you more predisposed to be able to dunk a basketball into a high net, it is skill – that which you can be taught and can practice – that will determine how good of a player you become. This is exciting news, as it means that what you are good at is largely within your control. So try things out, and unearth previously hidden paths to what you are good at. This exposure to new content also dovetails beautifully into the next area: discovering and doing what you love.

Do what you love.

This area is often linked with the notion of following your passion. Again, while quite easy to post about on social media, this principle is more complicated to put into practice. 

We can often get so caught up in the daily grind, that we don’t even know where to begin. Author Jay Shetty has a fantastic starting point for those looking to reconnect with what they love: he suggests starting very small. Shetty challenges you to, after each article, meal, news segment, activity, ask yourself: did you enjoy that? By engaging in this daily exercise, you become more aware and apt at identifying what resonates with you. As you get increasingly comfortable with the practice, you can gain better clarity as to your passion.

So, what is passion? I like to think of it as what lights you up: what makes you excited and want to learn more. And chances are, if it interests you, there are probably countless others out there that this could interest as well. See what they are up to and explore those avenues!

It is important to take a moment to acknowledge that doing what you love is, by its very nature, a dynamic experience. It is action-oriented. A verb. Your interests will evolve throughout your life as you become exposed to new ideas and experiences. For myself, this has meant an expansion over to the years from those first fundraisers for animals, to the overarching environmental movement, to where I am at now: a fascination with the concept of what the UN has coined One Health, which acknowledges that human and planetary health are closely interconnected. This doing what I love is reflected in my professional (making buildings healthier, greener), philanthropic (volunteering as a board member), and personal (as a conscious consumer, and through my lifestyle) endeavors.

Do what feels right.

This can be a surprisingly hard area to get clarity on when we are bombarded by daily stimulus, asking us to care more about this cause than the next. This information and compassion fatigue can make it challenging to narrow in on where you want to focus your efforts. 

In years past, I have spoken to students about finding the overlap between the two above areas: doing what you are good at and doing what you love. Further to conversations with my peers, however, I have come to realize that there is a third, distinct section overlapping in our diagram: that of doing what feels right. The first two sections combine together to create a zone of what makes a good life. But, and this is certainly a concept the next generation of the workforce is embracing with open hearts and minds, what about making a better world? I may have been overlooking this third area, as I was inadvertently lumping together my love for all things human and planetary health with a positive impact on my community.

Doing what feels right is the piece of the puzzle that will keep you motivated, even when hitting choppy waters. But how do you know where to start? There are endless causes to care about. This is where I recommend keeping in mind the expression: you can do anything, but you cannot do everything. Find your North Star, and follow it. The beauty in doing so is that many causes are indeed intersectional in nature. For example, focusing on the environment can have fantastic spillover effects on human health, animal welfare, and social injustices.

Much like the exercise of finding what you love, consider which areas you want to positively impact. Is it your local community? A cause in particular? Sometimes it means digging around and exploring to see where this interconnection and overlap is possible. And sometimes it means creating that unique zone!

The possibilities are endless, but the sense of satisfaction that one gets when putting in a hard day of work and realizing that they have helped move the world in a better direction is priceless. On those days where I have logged 11 hours of meetings and then have to jump on an additional committee call after dinner, my energy can occasionally waver. But in speaking with those individuals from all corners of Canada who are, on their own hours, coming together to help our planet, I inevitably leave my call feeling hopeful and energized.

My personal motto is “Show up. Mean it. Make it better”.

From linear to overlap.

2020 showed us, on a global scale, that the unexpected can happen. But working in your element is a lifelong journey. It is a lofty ambition to think that one can operate, at all times, in that sweet spot. The reality for most is that we will likely oscillate between the three spheres depending on which chapter we are in our lives. 

What can be helpful is to consciously keep all three areas in mind. Are you in a season of being siloed into one area? Perhaps limited to doing what you are good at? Use this time, where you might not be able to do what you love, to flip the script and focus on loving what you do. What does this look like? It means going all in on your tasks. Do them with focus and meaning, and your internal reward triggers will be stimulated even while you work on your next steps.

My personal motto is “Show up. Mean it. Make it better”. When I am reminded of these powerful words prior to engaging in a meeting or a project, I am immediately transported closer to operating in my zone. Working in your element is a dynamic, flowing experience. It is the perfect case for focusing on the journey over a final destination, and for doing your best at every stage. As thought leader Seth Godin said it so eloquently in a recent podcast, true “greatness is going right to the edge of what you are capable of doing in this moment.”

This is a truly unique time for Canadians. After the pandemic-provoked Great Pause, we should be focused not on going back to normal, but on moving forward to a new, more sustainable reality. What better time than now for our community, more tightly interconnected than ever, to pull together to rebuild in a meaningful way. May we all endeavour to meet each other at the intersection between doing what we’re good at, doing what we love, and doing what helps to build a better world.