If I had a million dollars

Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you’d do if you had a million dollars and you didn’t have to work. And invariably what you’d say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars then you’re supposed to be an auto mechanic.

This line from Office Space cuts to the chase.  What would you do, if you didn’t have to do anything?  I’ve asked myself that question over the years many times, and in my youth I I sounded a bit like Peter when I answered it:

I would relax… I would sit on my ass all day… I would do nothing.

It’s ironic that it’s hard to answer the question until you’ve been around the block a few times.  Here you are at 30 or 40, finally knowing what you want to be when you grow up, and you’re 10-20 years into something different.

In my case, the current answer to that question is that I’d probably become a Freelance Travel Writer.  If I were independently wealthy, I would take my family to new and exciting places and write about my journeys.  Of course, in this day and age, you don’t need to be wealthy to be a travel writer.  You don’t even need a publisher.  Anybody with a car, a spare weekend, and an internet connection can be a travel writer.  Sure, you might need to redefine “new and exciting places” or accept the idea that your insightful writing will only be read by a half-dozen people, but the core idea is the same.

The question I ask of my readers, who are primarily (like me) part of the corporate world, is how you take some of the answer to the million dollar question and incorporate it into your work life.  Or do you at all?

For me, I write.  I blog internally, I blog externally.  I don’t get into fights with competitors or talk about product performance; I tell stories about the journeys we are all taking as we try and navigate our professional lives.  It’s not exactly travel writing, but it scratches a similar itch.  By making this sort of thing acceptable, even encouraged, EMC gave me a way to take my passion, the stuff I was doing anyway, and bring it into the company fold.

I asked my co-workers this question recently, and the responses (that weren’t “sipping drinks on my yacht”) were generally aligned along volunteer efforts on improving the world in some way.  If you were a calculating corporate type, you might be well served by providing an outlet for that passion that somehow funneled some of the gain back into the corporation.  For example, giving anyone who applied for it a paid day off per quarter to volunteer for approved causes might seem expensive, but consider the benefits:

  • It is more likely people will volunteer (more stuff that needs doing will get done)
  • Increases retention
  • Improves the company’s reputation in the community

The cost?  It’s a false cost. EMC didn’t get where it is today by having employees that would let a quarterly goal slip because of one extra day off.  Most employees would end up making up that day off through the rest of the quarter.  I can’t imagine we’d miss any business goals for something like this, if we actually did it.

So now I ask the second question.  If you’re a manager or a leader, how do you find ways to bring your team members’ passion into alignment with your goals?  Have a story to tell about that?