Finding (Little) Purpose in an All-Day Meeting

Conference Room

I find myself spending a fair amount of time thinking about how life will be when I don’t go to work anymore with early retirement.  As I get closer to my intended “FIRE escape” date on April 1, 2016, it is entering my thoughts more and more. It is not that I am very dissatisfied with my work.  In fact, I am blessed with an interesting job and work with interesting people.  As much as anything, early retirement is an opportunity to devote time to pursuits that I find more personal meaning in, than pursuits important to MegaCorp. 

I was in a long, offsite meeting today – what I call “bell to bell”.  

I arrived a little before 8 AM (opening bell), sat in a boring, beige conference room until after 5 PM (closing bell).  As typical, MegaCorp leaders were talking about new changes in practices and processes that would require everyone’s “commitment & collaboration.”  No surprise, people were concerned about the need for change management, how budgets and responsibilities would be divided, and what role they personally would be asked to play.  To assuage fears, executives talked about new efficiencies and synergies, and used enough business buzzwords to make most of the employees in the feel like we are doing something cutting edge – even embarking on a great purpose for society. Really?

The truth is, finding a meaningful “corporate purpose” is a tall order for most MegaCorps.  As much as we hate to admit it, they are created to build return on investment and reward shareholders.  We want to think there is more to it than that, but everyday the organization’s decisions will undoubtedly reinforce the need to make money and deliver quarterly dividends.  There is nothing wrong with that – it is why MegaCorps exist.  Purpose might be found in serving our customers better, delivering solutions that make a difference in their lives, but to think that someone else wouldn’t also do it to make billions of dollars a year – that we alone are committed to this noble endeavor – is silly.

They say that those in the Millennial generation are especially looking for purpose and meaning in their career, but I find that it crosses across all generations.  No one wants to spend their life working on meaningless endeavors.  I think that’s why people want to become teachers, nurses, counselors, and other professions that are big on personal meaning, but maybe not big on fat paychecks.  

As a marketing executive for a number of familiar, brand-name MegaCorps, I’ve never found a lot of personal meaning in my career (but the fat paychecks have been nice).  Making television commercials, introducing new products, and changing box sizes and prices are activities that would fall pretty low on almost anyone’s personal meaning list.  That said, I don’t think this means I have ‘wasted my life’ on an ignoble pursuit.  The products I brought to market, played a role in making hundreds of millions of people’s lives easier, richer, or more nutritious in some small way.  Useful – if not personally meaningful.

For me, early retirement will be a time to find more personal meaning in life.  Things that are direct, voluntary, and don’t have a obligatory profit motive.  I’m not sure what that will be exactly, but I am happy to have the freedom to pursue it.  It will probably build on the involvement I have had in non-profit community organizations and take advantage of our “One More Year” charitable fund.

For now, I feel a lot like this cartoon that a friend sent me in our all day meeting today …


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