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Create Your Own Purpose-Driven Career: An 8-Point Formula

You may have seen some of my social media posts on how to incorporate your passions and purpose into your job. Recently, I gained valuable insights from several of my speaking engagements around the world, as well as from a very good friend and colleague, Dux Raymond Sy, Chief Marketing Officer from AvePoint, and refined my thoughts into a snackable checklist.

1. Define Your Vision
  1. Be an AND not an OR.
  2. What’s Your Passion?
  3. Do You have a Purpose?

Dux and I are both ANDs. We are not ORs. Everyone should see themselves as ANDs. For example, I define myself as a tech for good advocate, digital transformation leader, Founder, Board Member, entrepreneur, intrapreneur, lifelong learner, impact investor, world traveler, public speaker, author, and volunteer…probably so much more if I had more space. I do not choose between. Dux does not choose between these either.  Neither should you! ​

Check out my IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator program to see how I combine these together within the IBM Z and IBM LinuxONE families.

Not everyone has identified their passion and purpose; for many it is a journey. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a great place to see what sparks for you. I’m all about digital inclusion, entrepreneurship, and empowering underserved communities, which ladder up to Goal 4 – Quality Education, Goal 5 – Gender Inclusion, Goal 8 – Decent and Economic Growth, and Goal 10 – Reduced Inequalities.

The SDGs helped me identify my purpose and passion. You can read more about my thoughts around digital inclusion here, which includes training opportunities on IBM Z, IBM LinuxONE, IBM Cloud, and other suggestions beyond the world of IBM.

Melissa and Suzana from IBM in Abu Dhabi
2. Document Your Gaps
  1. Be a Learn It All
  2. Find Kindred Spirits
  3. Be Willing to Invest

Embrace life-long learning! I often find my inspiration in people who are empowering and inspiring me to be my best self.

I have identified kindred spirits that equally connect to each of my interests and text with them often. They help me better understand my gaps, what I need to learn, and how I can make a better impact by applying my learnings. That said, we all need to invest and understand that it is just as important to give forward and share our skills with our kindred spirits as it is to expect our kindred spirits to guide our journeys. Expect to be a mentor and mentee.

3. Give Yourself Space and Time
  1. Practice Mindfulness
  2. Prioritize and Organize

Reflect upon what you’re trying to achieve and be mindful of what we can and cannot do. I am not a developer despite being a developer advocate. I used to feel very selfconsious about this and compare myself against seasoned engineers.  I now have realized that this makes me somewhat of a citizen developer. I partner closely with other developer advocates when I deliver hands-on coding exercises to support our Master the Mainframe program or our IBM LinuxONE Community Cloud. I know when my skis are too far out in front of me and when I need to pull in people to augment my skills.  I no longer fret over not having the chops that my seasoned engineers have created throughout their careers.  

This is also not about making drastic career changes. We all have opportunities to incorporate socially empowering strategies into our role that still balance our core goals and objectives.

4. Create Your Plan to Fill the Gaps
  1. Take Ownership
  2. Establish Realistic Timeline and Goals
  3. Baby Steps

Nothing happens without preparation. Prioritize the steps you need to take, create a career strategy that identifies what you’re good at, define the opportunities that exist in your role and beyond, and map yourself to the requirements and gaps. I found that no one job matched what I wanted to do exactly, so I worked very hard to create my own path. I did not wait, nor did I ask for permission. I did the thing.  I did not ask for permission, but certainly had to ask for forgiveness a few times.

Take ownership, do the thing, and hold yourself accountable. Establish a realistic timeline with goals and take baby steps. It took me years to make this happen and come up with a succinct list that could also work for others too.

Go Beyond 9-5
  1. Take on Stretch Assignments
  2. Volunteer with a Startup
  3. Give Forward to Non-profits

To get experience and fill your gaps, find out what stretch opportunities exist within your organization. Do informationals with colleagues, in and outside your company and industry, to better understand what your network is doing in the causes that interest you. Your interests may not even be associated with a formal program inside your organization. Don’t be afraid to start a small pilot in your free time if one does not exist and go from there. Again, take baby steps and ask for forgiveness instead of permission.

I found it easier to volunteer with a startup to begin my journey of craeting a tie between my purpose and my career. A great source of inspiration for volunteering with social enterprises is Moving Worlds. I did three stints with Moving Worlds to gain added experience and to help me better understand the social entrepreneurship world. I even realized strengths I never know I had. I applied this same concept in the nonprofit sector…I volunteered to gain added experience.

All of this coupled with my other experiences in the tech industry gave me the confidence and backing to start spinning up IBM Z skill-building events and speaking engagements before I became an IBM Z Developer Advocate. It later became part of my gig, as I was already doing the job; therefore, it was a natural progression. I did not ask for permission…I just did the thing. I now see myself as someone who is on a citizen developer path and have no plans to become an engineer.  I recognize my strengths and the strengths of those around me.

Gather Your Squad
  1. Seek Bite-sized Insights
  2. Reciprocate
  3. Be a Friend

We talked about finding kindred spirits before. Gather your squad, do not ask a million questions at once – take baby steps, be ready to share your experience with them, and do not forget to be a friend while you are at it. I’m constantly reaching out to new people within my IBM Z world to be a better developer advocate, and this often means making personal connections with people in my team and beyond. I feel I have to work extra hard being a non-engineer in an engineer-driven team. We do not always need to fit the mold or experiences that others might have to be successful in roles that might not traditionally fit our background and experience.

Many of us struggle with who we are at work, who we are outside of work, and seek balance between these two selves. We all approach this differently. For me, what you find inside of work is the same as what you find outside. Figure out your balance while remaining authentic. Figure out how you can gather your squad, be there for them in a meaningful way, and always be your authentic self.

Document Your Journey
  1. Build Your Personal Brand
  2. Be Present Online and Offline
  3. Be Inclusive

Write, blog, get on social media, and create the brand you want other people to see and talk about when you are not in the room. I am transparent about my shortcomings, especially when it comes to being in a room full of engineers and knowing I am not one. This does not stop me from consistently showing up, pulling in others when needed, and being my best self – online and offline. This is not about being self-serving and having a “me show” when you are out there on the conference scene or social media. Find a way to be present in your own authentic way – both online and offline (events, conferences, meetups, one on ones). Again, be you…the real you. I cannot say this enough! Lastly, be inclusive and think beyond your normal sphere, industry, country, local community, gender, and/or abilities.  

I write a lot about my journey into the mainframe world and how I felt like an imposter when I first arrived. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable, but be out there. I can now get in front of thousands of people and not get tomatoes thrown at me while I am up there talking about the scalability, security, and always-on performance of mainframes. It is a journey and it takes time. Ok, no one has ever thrown tomatoes at me anyway, but I still fear it will happen one day!

Do the Thing

Lastly, go out and do the thing…whatever that thing might be for you.

Want a copy of the PowerPoint presentation? You can find it here.

Carry on in the conversation with me on Twitter at @mentorafrika.

Thanks, and best of luck with your purpose-driven career! I would love to hear what you are working on and what your passions and purpose might be…hit me up.

Melissa Sassi