We spend more than half our waking lives at work, so we want that time to be as satisfying as possible. The answer lies in seeing the purpose behind our work and understanding how it improves the world and the lives of others. This is easy for some professions (such as healthcare providers) and difficult for others (such as a janitor). But in every job – you can find a purpose bigger than its paycheck, and in every company – you can find a purpose bigger than its profit. Once found, that purpose is hard to shake and it has incredible lasting power.
I began my career in the early 1990s at MCI, a company that was founded with a deep sense of purpose: to free the world from the grip of a 100 year-old monopoly. Every employee understood that purpose and it infused the culture at every level, driving engagement, excitement and – one seemingly impossible quarter of sales performance after another. But this purpose didn’t stop with employees. It inspired customers who referred millions of “Friends & Family” to the company, and it inspired companies like Intel, Microsoft, and News Corp to partner with MCI. Everyone wanted to be a part of the story.
As the company evolved, so did its sense of purpose, and mine. In 1995, I became part of the company’s first Internet marketing team. We had the opportunity to work alongside pioneers like Vinton Cerf (co-author of TCP/IP) who inspired us with visions of a world where every device from your phone to your car radio would be Internet connected. We weren’t just seeing the future, we were about to create it.
They called us the CyberTeam (when “Cyber” was still a cool word) and we were small, just over a dozen people – but we had a big job and an even bigger sense of purpose. Nominally, our role was to train and support the sales force as they learned to sell Internet services. But deep down, each of us believed we were doing something much bigger: introducing the world to the Internet and forever changing the way we live and work.
Today, we can videoconference, buy & sell any product, consume or publish media, and even run a business from the phone in our pocket. It’s easy to take for granted what an incredible and inspiring goal that was two decades ago.
For those of us who were there at the start of it, that time in our lives was magical and the purpose we shared connects and inspires us to this day. The ClassicMCI alumni group was one of the fastest growing alumni groups on LinkedIn, and many MCI’ers have gone on to disrupt other industries, or start entirely new ones. Others simply joined promising new companies – often disappointed to find that “MCI magic” was tantalizing out of reach.
But everyone I know, who either worked at MCI or was on the CyberTeam, has been forever in search of an experience like it again.
And that is the lasting power of purpose.