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Don't you forget about me. How having a purpose can make or break you.

At the start of your career, you don’t really have any idea how long it is going to feel. A lot longer than you imagine! Perhaps, like me, you’ve reached a point where you’ve worked for 30 years and are thinking that you’ve still got half that time still to go. Whichever situation you’re in, without having a purpose it’s going to feel like a long hard slog and potentially very unfulfilling. Worse still, by just drifting and not really committing to making a mark in your chosen career, you might find it cut short as others with more drive than you pass by. There is a danger that you’ll become obsolete.

Thinking about this brought to mind a clear example of two, dramatically diverging careers in the world of music. Back in the early 80s, the UK music scene was thriving with many new bands competing to be the next big thing. There were two groups that shared a similar sensibility, combining post-punk with new wave and a bombastic rock style. The music papers were buzzing about them. Their names were Simple Minds and U2. Both were young and energetic, but only one group became (and still remain) megastars. It was the band that was on a mission, one with a strong point of view that believed in something bigger.

U2 annoyed many people along the way and continue to do so today, especially when they give away their album for free by dumping it in everyone’s iTunes library whether people wanted it or not. Their combination of quasi-religious, save the world, “we are one” rhetoric has driven them forwards. Mostly thanks to Bono and his crusades for justice that always gave him something to say, even if their longsuffering drummer would rather he didn’t. Of course they are all excellent musicians, songwriters and performers who’ve chosen great producers to work with, but those things are not enough to sustain a music career. Meanwhile, Simple Minds (who I still love by the way) didn’t have much to say. They took a shortcut to success by recording someone else’s song (Don’t You Forget About Me) for the popular movie “The Breakfast Club”. They became massive for a short while, but without a strong purpose or message about what they stood for people eventually did forget about them. They are still around, releasing albums and touring the heritage circuit, yet they never did fulfill their potential.

Some people are naturally charismatic. Bono is one and Jim Kerr (lead singer of Simple Minds) is less so. I’m not suggesting we can all be like Bono, but we can think a bit more about trying to define what we believe in, to find an expression for that and let others see that we have something we stand for. It could help you sustain your career and make it more meaningful too.

An excerpt from The UX of ME: Career Optimisation Through Design Thinking. Available now on Amazon Kindle.

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