Navigating the Purpose and Responsibility in Our Work
When we’re immersed in our daily work, it’s easy to overlook a profound truth: the tasks we undertake – both big and small – and the reason why we pursue them have a far-reaching influence. Our actions ripple beyond our horizon; they can resonate and shape the lives of others in ways we might never directly see. For me, this is both an inspiration and a reminder of our responsibility and potential.
Occasionally, a glimpse of our impact circles back to us. This happened to me recently when I discovered a heartfelt compliment from a student who had completed an online localization course I co-created for the University of Washington alongside fellow experts. It was more than validation of our work or personal praise; it reminded me how our efforts create lasting value, empowering others for further accomplishments. If you think back, you can probably recall many similar moments in your own career and personal life.
One of my most personally meaningful collaborations was with the Cherokee Nation and Microsoft, where we worked on bringing the Cherokee writing system and localization to digital products. This project, while not the largest or most complex, holds a special place due to its profound impact. It was a critical step for the Cherokee Nation in preserving their language, and by extension, their culture. Since so much of our communication and work is digital, the inability to write in their language in online interactions would mean that new generations learning the language would have to leave it behind.
This project’s uniqueness lay not just in the challenges of orthography and grammar, but in its deep cultural and historical significance. It was a testament to the power of trust and collaboration in achieving significant goals. Coming from a country that has experienced its share of historical challenges, I felt a sense of connection and privilege in being part of this partnership and having an opportunity to foster respect and collaboration.
This experience further taught me the importance of the why in our approach to work. The visible passion and commitment of the Cherokee Nation’s advocates had a pivotal influence on the project’s reception and success. It highlighted that the motivations and attitudes we bring to our endeavors are as crucial as our skills.
These and similar experiences gave me a deeper appreciation of how profound and far-reaching our actions and motivations are. Just as ripples in water merge and interact to form larger waves, our individual actions can come together to create positive outcomes that spread far beyond our horizon.
Of course, sometimes the magnitude of the impact of our actions and results couldn’t be clearer: All eyes are upon us and the stakes are high because the effect of the outcome will be immediate and significant. But most of the time, we are dealing with seemingly everyday things and decisions – important, but not pivotal.
What approaches have worked for you, both in the high-stakes and routine situations? For me, bringing along the same mindset has served me well in both scenarios: By focusing on the purpose and other people, I find my mind is naturally drawn to possibilities and answers rather than unproductive thoughts such as the negative versions of “what if”, “not me”, or “yes, but.”
I believe that just like the waves can become more powerful when they move beyond our horizon, our ability to achieve our best results is strongest when we place our focus and motivation beyond the horizon of our own interests. For most of us, it is also a source of greater satisfaction.
In all these experiences, two insights stand out to me:
The ripples we send stretch beyond what we can see or will be able to hear back about, each contributing to larger waves and amplifying the importance of our actions.
The “why” and “for whom” behind what we do are the forces that define our approach and allow us to consistently bring our best and inspire others.
As we chart our courses through the complexities of our professional and personal lives, it is worthwhile to pause and remind ourselves of the things that matter to us. They help guide our actions as we create ripples of positive change. Together, they add to the waves of a magnificent ocean of a better future that we all take part in crafting.