Why are you here? The most important question for your career.
Why do you work? This is often overlooked, underestimated and taken for granted.
Here is a memo I wrote to my team this week, with a framework to help to start answering this important question (which I believe can be used for anyone at any company).
Every day you wake up and make a choice about how you want to start your day. Whether you realize it or not, this single choice will impact everything about your day ahead and how you show up at work, with your family and friends. And more often than not, you are making this choice unconsciously.
This choice is influenced greatly by what you value and whether you feel valued. As a technology or business professional, you spend a good chunk of your waking time working. Although you may show up physically to an office, it does not mean that you show up intellectually, emotionally or creatively.
I’ve taken the past few months to reflect on motivation with people both inside and outside our company. As a leader, I feel a responsibility to help bring out the best in you. I’ve learned that our differences are what make us great. We are unique in our experiences, background, upbringing, culture and perspectives. The diversity we have within our humble 40-person team can be celebrated. We’re not cogs on an assembly line; we are a group of people organized into a business, who make a decision every day to continue this journey together.
How we choose to show up not only impacts the quality of our work but, more importantly, how we feel about that work. The journey we’re on together can be a more meaningful experience if we are aware and thoughtful of why we are on it.
Let’s talk about why you are here. That way we can support you by identifying the opportunities and challenges that align best with what you value most.
Introducing the Pentagon
Now you’re probably thinking, “How do I even start to answer the question about why I’m here?”.
Well, I’m glad you asked! To help you, I’ve developed the Pentagon, a framework to help us have this very important conversation.
The Pentagon highlights 5 areas of your professional life that you may feel a connection to. The strength of that connection will vary and change over time. Some of you may not connect with them at all (in the present moment), which is absolutely fine.
Our mission is clear: to provide technology solutions that help premium publishers grow their branded content revenue. Why? To support a business model for the production of quality content. Why? To allow publishers to achieve their purpose, which is to inspire, inform and entertain the world through content.
Every major world event was told to me through the news. How I perceive the world we live in has undoubtedly been influenced by opinions of others shared through the media. All forms of entertainment, be it sports, movies, shows, are a form of content.
Here are some of the ways I connect with our mission:
- “I can’t imagine the world without content.”
- “The work we do helps support content for the world.”
- “I’ve become increasingly tired and impatient with how poor quality advertising is polluting the web and feel motivated to clean things up.”
Do you feel a connection with our mission? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Either way, it’s completely fine. The Pentagon has 5 sides, and Mission is only one of them.
Being challenged intellectually, creatively and professionally can be a thrill. You might value meaningfully develop new skills like leadership, communication or technical competence. This means you get excited by learning new topics, skills and technologies. You seek out new challenges and are not afraid to take on a project that you may not have experience with.
For me, I get very excited about the challenges involved in building and growing. I’m actually less concerned with the ‘what’ I may be building, and more interested with the ‘how’. If something has not done before, I will bias towards seeing that as an opportunity and challenge myself to ask the question “how might we…”.
If you’re motivated by growth, then you may connect with one of the following phrases:
- “Solving challenging problems that have not been done before is why I show up”
- “Exploring new technologies, frameworks or approaches gets me excited”
- “Constantly learning and growing is what I need to stay engaged”
- “If I’m not failing, I’m not learning. I want to tackle new stuff as it helps me grow”
Do you like the people you work with? Do you feel excited, energized and enthusiastic when hanging out, either professionally or socially, with your peers? Do you care about their lives and feel they care about yours? If so, it sounds like you’re invested in the relationships that have been built by the chance circumstance of you working together.
Personally, I enjoy and appreciate the time I get to spend with all of you. However, this theme extends beyond our team. It includes our investors and Board members, whom I feel a sense of responsibility and commitment towards. It includes our partners and others in the industry, whom I’ve come to grow fond of at a personal level. I’ve been in this industry for so long now, the connections I have are meaningful (evidenced by how many partners I’ve had conversations with about my mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga and journaling).
If you’re motivated by people, then you may connect with one of the following phrases:
- “I really like the people I get to work with every day”
- “I’ve developed meaningful connections with people at work, I look to them for support, encouragement and help frequently”
- “I really enjoy spending time with our clients, understanding their business and lives, and helping them where I can”
There are many forms of recognition at the company. Financial recognition (i.e. compensation), by way of a semi-monthly paycheck you receive, is the obvious one. Based on your role, you may have a variable bonus as well. Another component of financial recognition are stock options in the company, which, based on our business success and growth, may have real cash value one day.
Praise and acknowledgement is another form of recognition. It may be public (in front of your peers) that you value, or private (hearing it from someone who’s opinion you really value). It may also be external to the company (e.g. press coverage, industry events, local tech or business community).
If you’re motivated by recognition, then you may connect with one of the following phrases:
- “How much I get paid is really important to me”
- “I’d like to see the business get bought one day so I can make even more money”
- “I want our company to be well-respected in our industry, so that more doors open up for me in the future when I find my next company to work with”
- “Hearing acknowledgement from my peers that I’m doing a great job is really helpful and keeps me motivated”
At a certain point in our lives, we become aware of the need to take care of ourselves and those around us. So, we look for a work environment that’s supportive of that. This is an intrinsic desire to feel safe, secure and supported. We are confident in the value we bring and how we contribute towards the organization’s needs, and expect to be taken care of in return.
Our open vacation guidelines, flexibility to work from home at times and a good health benefits program are just some of the examples of providing a comfortable environment to be your best. Also being part of a culture that strives to be transparent and trusting, open and accepting of different views and backgrounds, and free of politics, can be liberating.
If you’re motivated by wellness, then you may connect with one of the following phrases:
- “I have to pick up my kids from daycare and appreciate the flexibility to do so”
- “Working from home at times because of my super long commute is helpful”
- “I feel comfortable expressing how I feel at work, and that helps me feel calm”
- “I thankfully don’t feel stressed on a day-to-day basis at work and don’t have to worry about bringing work stress home to my family or friends”
- “I know I get honest, constructive and professional feedback at work which helps me to avoid worrying for no reason”
- “I’m grateful that I’m encouraged to take time away and disconnect from work on weekends, evenings and on vacation”
Let’s not forget about our shared purpose
Core to the Pentagon is our shared purpose and belief that the overall success, health and prosperity of the organization (and its team members, partners and supporters) is what provides the opportunity for each of us to experience the reason we are all here.
Put differently, it does not matter how connected I may feel to the mission, the people, my wellness, the recognition or growth at Polar. If Polar does not continue to succeed, my own needs will not be provided for!
Putting the Pentagon to work for you
First and foremost, the Pentagon is a framework for you to be clear with yourself on why you are here and what you value. Second, it’s a tool to share your values with those around you (including me!) so that you can be supported in a way most relevant for you.
Lesson one: use this as an awareness tool, for yourself and others.
There is no single “right” reason as to why you are here. We are all different and will have different reasons for being here. This diversity is what makes us great as a team.
Now the reasons you are here have likely changed and will continue to change (because everything changes!). I know for myself, over the past 8 years since starting Polar, my motivations have evolved greatly and I expect them to continue to.
Lesson two: this is not a one-time, permanent exercise or evaluation. It is something to continually revisit.
It’s also okay if you don’t know why you are here. That means you’ve just discovered an opportunity to explore this question and I encourage to let your curiosity guide you.
Lesson three: give yourself the space and freedom to discover why you are here.
In close, how you choose to show up every day and the reasons for doing so will greatly influence how you feel about how you spend your time. Use this framework as a gentle reminder for yourself on why you are here, and let that energy and enthusiasm guide you throughout your day to show up fully and as your true self!
Thank you to Jay Vidyarthi, Lou Pino and Afraj Gill for being involved in the process to develop this framework and for editing this post.
Kunal Gupta is the Founder & CEO of Polar. He leads a talented team transforming the media publishing industry with technology. He is passionate about leadership and finding focus in a modern era, read more on his personal leadership blog on Medium or connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.