Impact Over Title: The Existential Crisis of Learning You Have a Bullsh*t Job
What do you do when the job you joined because of the opportunity to positively impact the world around you is labeled “meaningless”?
As we called out in our recent newsletter, we were fascinated by the recent Hidden Brain podcast interview with anthropologist David Graeber, “BS Jobs: How Meaningless Work Wears Us Down”. The value we provide to our clients is a key motivator for us, so we were ready to dive in to the podcast in full agreement! Until, that is, the role of corporate lawyer was a poster child for a BS job.
Enter self-doubt…Are we really making the world a better place? Is our role really just to play a ‘goon’ as Graeber categorized corporate lawyers, serving as a security measure because all the other big dogs have lawyers? Is the value we strive to provide to our clients all in our heads?
After hearing the podcast, we read Graeber’s article from 2013, which he recently developed into a book. The backdrop of his self-described rant is that our technological advances are ever-increasing our workload, our consumerism is exploding, and leisure time remains on the fringe. He then points out that industrial, agricultural, and domestic jobs have dropped over the past 100 years, while the number of employees in office jobs has tripled. And, upon closer inspection of office jobs, his take is that most of these roles are administrative noise, proving their worth through busyness.
Okay, we get that… we agree if the reduction of BS jobs meant we all have more leisure time and that society was less focused on showing up and pushing papers, everyone wins (except, as Graeber mentions, those who fear a ‘happy and productive population with free time on their hands’). We’ve experienced the waste-riddled side of corporate world, where the amount of time it takes for teams of people to do work relative to the measurable impact on the world demonstrates a ton of wasted energy.
Reflection: Time vs Impact
So, we then started reflecting – what is the day-to-day work we ask of ourselves? What are we asked to do for our clients? What do we ask of others? And how many degrees of separation are there between our tasks and a direct impact on the world?
We spend the vast majority of our time writing, reviewing, and negotiating contracts. Seems like a shoo-in for a BS job, right? Not so fast! Our clients are creating and inventing some of the most innovative solutions in technology and healthcare. With a clear contract our clients save time:
Our clients learn how the law applies to their business
The goal of working together is defined
It is clear who will do what by when to achieve the goal
The cost of using the product or service is documented
Things that could go wrong and what to do next are laid out before something unexpected happens
We also reflected on the broader reason for our existence as a company. We serve technology companies because we love their dynamic nature, and our expertise allows us to meet their needs effectively. We created Trifecta General Counsel rather than just taking positions with big firms because we recognize that there are a lot of elements of the traditional law firm model that erode morale, waste time, and perpetuate confusion through jargon. We truly believe that there is a path to solve the kinds of problems that require lawyers without lawyers feeling worthless.
While we don’t feel like the Meaningless Corporate Lawyer title applies to us, we were inspired to more closely consider our work days in several ways:
Instead of focusing on the question, “What’s my job?”, we’d rather ask, “What do I change?” or, “Who do I help?” to keep tabs on our impact.
Instead of adding (or continuing) an administrative task, we think critically about it:
Who (specifically) benefits from this activity?
Is there a way it can done faster and still be effective?
Instead of agreeing to join a call in a ‘goon’ role (adding only the value of being the lawyer present), discuss the risks and benefits with our client first:
What are the worst things we can imagine happening if we weren’t on the phone?
How big of a deal is each one?
How might we mitigate them?
Take advantage of our flexible work environment and supportive colleagues and loosen up:
Set due dates that allow space in our schedules
Take a walk outside
Leave early to hang out with the kids
How meaningful do you find your job? We’d love to hear what makes people happy at work.