One of the things I’ve struggled with at work is how to complete all the things the company needs to get done, while maintaining my physical and emotional balance. Not overworking, doing it all myself, burning out, forgetting about other responsibilities, etc.
And one of the recipes I’ve discovered to work the best is to be joy-driven. Not joy-driven in the sense of only working when I find joy, but working on the things, and in the ways, that bring me joy.
Now before you all go and throw Marie Kondo (‘does it spark joy?’) all over me, let me just tell you about how I operated in the first company I founded. Basically, I was a young kid who biked home as quickly as I could from school in order to sit and work on my website. Little did I know that it one day would become a large online community and a viable business of it’s own.
My focus was simple: work on the things that excite me!
So I did programming, design, marketing, journalism, video editing, public speaking… HR, team building and team awards. Whatever excited me in the moment.
And it wasn’t that the approach didn’t work — it did work in fact, and the business was booming with millions of visitors. It was just that I didn’t know what I was, or how I was doing it.
It wasn’t until many years later when I had joined Spotify that I realized I was an entrepreneur. I realized I wasn’t just this one thing — “backend developer” or “web designer” — I simply liked to build companies and do whatever task was needed to achieve the goals.
Nowadays I’m refining that definition. Not that it was wrong, I’m just adding nuance: it isn’t “entrepreneurship” that made me different from those around me. It was that I was joy-driven. Passion-driven.
I’d find whatever problem I was really interested in and then throw myself at solving it.
And that doesn’t mean I was always good. My self-taught PHP programming skills weren’t very secure and led to multiple outages of the site. My design skills consisted of ripping Blizzard Entertainment’s awesome game wallpapers and putting them on my homepage. And so on.
But what the joy-driven approach to work led me to feel was that there were always easy solutions available around the corner to almost any problem. Joy-driven work made me find flow and ease in the work simply because I allowed myself to shift into becoming whatever was necessary in order to enjoy it. If I didn’t like a project anymore, I’d ignore it. I didn’t optimize for revenue or any external goal, I just flowed towards that which was stimulating and enjoyable. And over time I learned how to go back and solve the problems that previously stumped me.
And that’s a work experience I’d love for everyone to have. It’s kind of what we’ve been trying to create at Lookback.
But before I got there at Lookback, I had a long phase of just doing what was necessary. And it burned me out.
I didn’t work with joy. I was so focused on what needed to be done that I’d push long, hard hours at tasks that I didn’t enjoy and that over time brought down my patience, passion and even my love for others.
These days I try to ask myself: what am I excited about working on today? What’s the most interesting opportunity that I can address right now, given my current interests?
This approach would be counter-intuitive as first, because, well, what about the needs of the business? It turns out that having happy, reliable, positive employees as part of the team is a pretty good objective of any company. So you need to work at a progressive company in order to be allowed to do this, I suppose. But if you can, you’ll find — at least I found — that it’s so much easier to be productive, highly passionate, and engaging to people around you if you’re working with joy. And this can compensate for whatever loss the company received from not working at the highest priority item at the time.
Now, don’t get me wrong — I am not saying work on “anything” or “objectives don’t matter”. But I am saying that your joy and passion can become a bounding box for whatever is in scope for you to attack each day. And hopefully that zone is large enough for real work — real business needs — to be addressed and successfully conquered.
So that’s my new approach: joy before needs. The joy sets the boundaries for what I can work on, and within those boundaries, I rapidly move ahead on whatever the company needs me to — with joy and with passion.