Monthly Archives: May 2014

Working for a higher purpose vs. cleaning the toilet


People throw around phrases and words like “spiritual meaning” when talking about what they do for a living, but there’s a hard cold truth about work that most folks hate to admit: for most of the folks talking about their “higher purpose” it’s really hot air and a way of rationalizing the long hours and time away from family and friends. Seriously, sitting on a mountain top meditating has spiritual meaning, selling knick knacks or services only has the meaning that you pretend it has.

Pretend is not a bad thing — pretending we all get along and agree is how nations are run. It’s what keeps corporations from imploding when there’s a change of management. And it’s how most marriages survive past the first couple of years. It’s a good thing both for stability and mental health. But believing (i.e. pretending) that your life’s bliss comes from having a deep spiritual bond with your clients and that your only real goal is to enhance the universe has two huge problems when it comes to business:

  • A business needs to make money, and that type of airy-fairy attitude not only doesn’t encourage people to spend money with you, it often keeps you from asking or demanding money and respect.  
  • It can keep someone who is making a decision based on rational thought from respecting your pricing because in the back of their mind they’ll assume your prices are based on emotion rather than hard cold numbers, and if the prices are based on emotions they can use emotion to get you to change your prices.

How many forum posts and private emails go around every time a small business owner has a client who doesn’t respect him or her and who treats them badly? Lots. It happens daily in some industries, with the same people posting/emailing the same complaints over and over.

And how often do you think that attitude in the client has been accidentally nurtured by the business owner being all “spiritual meaning” about their work and leading the client to believe that the business owner will do ANYTHING to keep from having their spiritual meaning tarnished? Seriously, you just gave a pushy client a giant advantage, because if this is more than just how you pay your mortgage they know that you’ll honestly do anything to keep them happy.

But in addition to giving the client power, by making your work all about some kind of “higher purpose” you’ve given yourself an “out” to not do certain things well. Bookkeeping for example — you can justify ignoring the numbers by telling yourself you’re following your bliss. You can focus on the things that are your “passion” and happily ignore those things that actually make a business successful, which usually means numbers and processes and nitty-gritty late nights doing non-creative things while your family and friends are out having fun.

Sadly, 99% of running a business (any business) is sweat and paperwork and customer service rather than the bliss that modern “isn’t my office beautiful” magazines would have you believe. There’s not a lot of spiritual bliss in realizing you need to scrub the office toilet before the client comes in, especially not when you know that specific client doesn’t respect you and will demand extra services and more attention and not want to pay you for those things.