Article in Brief: Your workdays are busy. And you work hard. But does all that work really matter? Here are three questions to help you find out.
by Keith Reynold Jennings
In this article, I want to write directly to and for you about work that matters.
There’s so much to get done in an average work week. It’s easy to start checking the boxes.
An old business strategy adage says that it’s more important to work on the business than it is to work in the business. But I want to elevate us a level above that to ask, “Does your work really matter?”
By “matter,” I don’t mean “matter to you.”
Does your business, your product or service, your art, your organization, your cause, your whatever matter to others out there in the world? So much so that they’re responding?
Because if what you choose to do every day doesn’t really matter to others — doesn’t help or elevate them in some meaningful or valued way — what’s the point of all that hard work and busyness?
The Handwritten Thank You Letter
A couple of weeks ago, upon my return from an extended vacation, I had a letter in my mail stack.
It was handwritten. It wasn’t a few superficial sentences from someone trying out a flavor-of-the-week idea. It was a sincere narrative from someone thanking me for the time and support I’d given them at a crucial time in their business.
Now you may be thinking that I’m leading up to how great that letter made me feel. But you’d be wrong.
That letter disturbed me, because it made me realize that it had been more than a year since I last received a sincere thank you like that.
This is not something I can blame others for. And it’s not something I can chalk up to a “people are too busy these days” excuse. That letter made it clear that, as much as I work and try to serve others, I’m not really doing things impactful enough to make someone want to take the time to respond.
Since then, here are three questions I’ve been asking myself. Maybe they can help you in some way.
1. Do They Thank You?
I first heard this question asked by Ann Handley, chief content officer with MarketingProfs, at a conference I attended years back.
It’s a great question! And it gets to the heart of your (and your business’) work. I was reminded of this question when I read that letter I mentioned above.
Do your customers thank you? Do they thank you regularly? How long has it been since you received a thank you?
If it’s been a while, then like me, you’ve got some work to do.
I’ve posted that thank you letter above my desk to remind me why I’m here. And what I’m here to do. Which is to serve others in ways that matter to them (not me).
If months drip by without a thank you, then it’s my fault.
2. If You Quit Today, Would You Be Missed?
This is a version of a question that best-selling marketing author, Seth Godin, likes to ask in speeches and interviews. He phrases it, “Would they (your customers/clients) miss you if you were gone?
His point is that if you’re just another business offering just another service, then you are a commodity vendor. And you deserve your fate.
But if you’re doing extraordinary work — not extraordinary by your definition, but by your customer’s definition — and you were to go away, it’s highly likely you and your work would be missed. So much so that some would seek you out.
Years ago I wrote essays for a group of creatives. The essays were deep, personal and built on some pretty complex ideas (the antithesis of the clickbait listicles you see everywhere today).
I eventually came to a season in which I was about to adopt my second daughter and bring her home. I knew that I needed to be fully present for her and our other kids during that critical time. So I thanked my readers and quit writing for a few years.
For years after that, I continued to receive emails from readers around the world telling me how much those essays had inspired and encouraged them in their creative lives. Some had even used my writing to teach others!
It’s been a long time since I produced work with that kind of impact. Frankly, that’s what I’m working to do with this blog — to combine smarts with heart. Two qualities you don’t often see together.
And that leads to the last question worth asking yourself.
3. Are You Being Sought Ought?
Are people hearing about you and your work from others and seeking you out? If not, why not?
People keep discovering a post I wrote on thought leadership. In it I say that being a “thought leader” means being THE go-to for something specific. If you’re not THE source for something, then you’re not a thought leader.
The broader question, though, is whether or not people are discovering you. And this isn’t limited to online.
If you work in a company, are people in the company hearing about your work and seeking you out?
If you are a freelancer, are prospective clients and partners in your local area finding you?
Being sought out isn’t an “only” metric. It’s an “also” metric. What I mean is that you will always have to find and reach out to prospective clients yourself. But you shouldn’t only be getting business that way. The day should come when others are also discovering you.
What This Means For Servant Leadership & Marketing
By now, I hope you’re understanding what this is really about. It isn’t a contest for getting more thank you notes. It isn’t about being beloved or famous.
These questions are a challenge to connect with, touch and serve others in ways that matter…to them!
If marketing is the art and science of creating and keeping a customer, then your ability to do work people are thankful for, would miss and are continually discovering is the best marketing you could practice.
Spend some time with these questions. I will too.
Image by Pexels.
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