Transcending Complacency to Live a Life of Purpose

Six days ago, I figuratively set sail on a new adventure along a course previously travelled. I sold all of my furniture, packed essentials into boxes, tossed them into a 2011 Chevy Traverse and hit the road for Washington, DC. I say this was a course previously travelled because this is the third move I made to DC in twice as many years.

I was first driven to move to DC by a rather large chip on my shoulder. I had watched all the hard work put into a civic engagement campaign I helped run at a Boston nonprofit result in more undelivered results from elected officials and more “I told you so’s” from disenfranchised Roxbury residents who long ago lost hope in the political system. I was fueled by a curiosity for how technology can empower the ignored voices of many to have a greater influence over power structures than the dollars of a privileged few.

My first voyage to DC, from April to July 2006, was exploratory. I took online organizing trainings with the New Organizing Institute; learned the ins-and-outs of political fundraising while working at a Democratic political action committee; and honed my community manager skills while learning the potential for disruptive social technology at LocaModa, a Boston-based startup.

Fast-forward to November 2006, after having my job with LocaModa outsourced to Canada and winning re-election for a Boston state rep, I made (what I planned to be) a permanent move to DC. I found my calling in what was then referred to as online communications (now called social media). Being the new kid on the block trying to make a name for myself, I took advantage of every opportunity I had, large or small. I was turned down left and right by all the hot consulting firms in town, but it just drove me more. The chip on my shoulder from not being able to create the change I wanted was replaced by a larger chip from trying to prove to the naysayers that I was as good, if not better, than they were.

I spent the next three years crawling up the proverbial ladder, going from managing an online community for a medium-sized nonprofit to leading new media for high profile Senate races. My ambition grew, I wanted to climb higher, and I wanted to be the best. I was beating my own goals, accomplishing my “10 year plan” in a third of the time. After moving back to Boston in 2009 to help family, I decided to start my own company (Social Contxt) 5 years before I originally planned to, completely unprepared, and, looking back at it, for all the wrong reasons.

When I stepped back from Social Contxt in 2011, after making a conscious decision not to take on more personal debt to keep the company going, I realized I had lost my way. I still had a large chip on my shoulder (which is never a bad thing). I was still driven by my curiosity and fueled by my love for the industry. There was something missing, though. I lost my purpose. I forgot why I got into this line of work in the first place. I became complacent with just being successful.

As I spent the next fourteen months working at Hill Holliday, I came to realize success wasn’t enough. For all I have accomplished in my career over the past three years, be they large or small, I was not fulfilled by it. The work began to feel empty and meaningless. I was going through the motions, comfortable with just being good at what I do.

Early 2012, when I started to realize this lose of purpose was affecting both my work and personal life, I stepped back and did some real soul searching. It only took a night out in DC with some good friends drinking some good whiskey to realize I had lost my way and needed to get back on track.

So here I am, once again a DC resident, back on the course I set out on in 2006. This city is where I originally found my true calling and passion, and this is where I feel I needed to be to get that back. I still have a chip on my shoulder, but I am not weighed down by it. I have an even hotter fire burning in my belly, but it’s not consuming my soul. I have a focus I feel like I haven’t had in years. I have rediscovered my passion for disrupting the status quo to bring about meaningful change and amplifying the voice of the many (customers, users, voters, etc.) to be greater than the voice of the few.

If there is a lesson to be learned in this it’s that whenever you are beginning to feel complacent, whenever you find yourself going with the motions, it’s time to hit reset. My dad used to always tell me “the day you wake up and don’t want to go to work is the day you need to find a new job.” That applies to life. Never wake up and settle on being anything less than passionate about anything you do. Never become complacent. Complacency is a slow death.