The Value in Being Mission-Driven

Why the Pursuit of Impact > Material Accomplishment

Adefoluke Shemsu
8 min readApr 14, 2021

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Why be Mission-Driven?

I personally have never been inspired by the material. My mind has always cut through the noise of societal demands, outside opinions, and the notion to acquire stuff simply for the sake of having it. I cannot in my right mind justify doing anything for the material things it may afford me because my contentment and self-worth aren’t at all tied to what I do.

What I do is a privilege, and my internal mission is to be impactful; not successful. Especially not in the traditional sense. My previous experiences in the public sector highlight this well, where the least of my concern was my own safety, comfort, or how I was perceived by others. I have only ever cared about how what I do impacts those around me, and my only true desire is to leave a positive mark in the lives of as many people as possible — however that may manifest through the years. That is my mission.

Thanks to the difference in the perception of my work life, I have always been able to get the most out of experiences that others would often deem as being beneath them. I am a testament to the fact that a mission-driven life is one that cannot be penetrated by others, my own self-doubt, or even my own ego because allowing an internal mission to guide you also helps you understand that what you do is larger than just you.

Right now, your value = what you have or what you’ve done.

In a world where achievement is in itself appraised by the ability to afford certain brands, cite a certain order of letters behind one’s name, or humble-brag about a monetary figure awarded for services rendered, it isn’t a reach to infer how our society seems to have become so deeply miserable.

Need proof?

Our “dream” jobs are jobs at companies with prestige attached to the name, or jobs with impressive titles that pay enormous bonuses each year. Our “dream” homes are considerably larger than what we’ll ever need in a living space, and cost five times what we currently have. Our “dream” love interests even tend to have a particularly unattainable physical beauty to them. This is an unmistakable reflection of a culture that champions materialistic and consumptive behavior – that is to say, the belief that you can never have too much. A belief where much of what comprises dream-worthiness fails to supplant superficial value.

People are unhappy because they chase things to feel good about themselves; to justify the time and energy they dedicate to the chase.

The common “dream” job is typically aligned with being able to (hopefully) communicate your social value, coupled often with an unspoken understanding that the job itself – deep down – is but a means to an end, to both afford and justify a particular lifestyle.

Social media did well highlighting this issue, as many white-collar and workplace satire meme pages post experiences and grievances regarding the problem of chasing prestige and big salaries. The problem of how the pursuit of a “dream” job leads to the ability to wear designer clothing and take elegant vacations but also costs many their mental and physical health, relationships, energy, and time.

Here are a couple of examples from Instagram:

There also is nothing inherently wrong with seeking material success, so long as it doesn’t define and drive what you do; for that is a road to unnecessary suffering. Rather, I would welcome you to focus on what can be directly controlled — your perception.

Removing the Constraints of the Material Dream

This isn’t a call to search for deeper meaning with monk-like fervor. Instead, this is a call to question your “why” for doing what you do. The “why” matters because it can’t be bought, doesn’t care how much you earn, what your title is, or whether your life is impressive to others. The “why” is the mission, and any earthly milestone is but a fruit of said mission.

When you have a “why” for existing in a particular role at a job or even starting your own business, satisfaction and gratitude are found in the process of doing what matters to you. We need to remove the notion that life as a professional is full of doing things you don’t want to do but have to do. Sure, there of course will be challenges in the pursuit of anything, but you’ve got the wrong idea if your preconceived notion is that your work-life essentially has to be miserable to be meaningful.

Self-Awareness as a Driver of Mission

A mission-driven approach to your professional life enables provisions for greater honesty with yourself. It’s hard to ask yourself hard questions when more consideration is traditionally made for salary and social status than balance or purpose in one’s life. Even greater is the challenge of giving up certain material luxuries for the chance at a better quality of life. This is where honesty is most important, however, because the biggest caveat in allowing a “north star” to lead you is likely found in what many would perceive as a sacrifice – lifestyle.

How much does your mental and emotional quality of life compare against the material? What does living a certain lifestyle mean to you? Why do you want it? Are you willing to give up certain luxuries for the luxury of feeling good about what you do and the way you can spend your free time?

This isn’t to say you can’t make both a great living and do work that fulfills you, but it is necessary to manage your expectations, as what generally brings people joy doesn’t always pay the same dividends. If you can get real about what you want and separate yourself from the overarching “keeping up with ____” cultural zeitgeist, this process will be much easier.

Getting to the Bottom of This Issue

My aim here is simply to highlight why a simple change in how you think about your professional life and the methodology in curating it can change your overall experience of it, which leads to greater enjoyment of your life overall.

I have witnessed it firsthand through friends and loved ones, and it never seems to pan out healthily in the grander scheme – especially into older age. I was once a Fitness Counselor for the YMCA, and I spent hours on end talking to elderly populations that I worked with. I learned that chasing stuff for the sake of having more or creating the “ideal” social image will be never-ending and fruitless if that’s all that matters to you.

Talking to both sides of this school of thought has been interesting, as the primary difference between them was truly only found in what they prioritize. One type of person wants to wake up and feel excited by what they’re doing. The other leverages their salary and benefits to live a nicer lifestyle outside of work, though they often have less time to enjoy those luxuries. There is merit to both, but equally is there something to be said about the once money-driven careerist, now the elderly man who says he wishes he would’ve spent more time doing what he loved.

There is no right or wrong here, but your final stance on the matter can likely be summarized by answering these questions:

1. What do you irrevocably and authentically value in the work you do? In the environment of where you work? The culture?

2. Should work be a laborious means to an end that offers the opportunity for certain lifestyle choices, or a process through which one gets to deploy interests and passions with the purpose of impact?

3. Does the concept of being embarrassed by “downsizing” keep you from pursuing what you want because the compensation may be less than what you’re used to? Do you think you could adjust for the right alternative?

4. Would you rather love what you do, or be praised and rewarded for doing what others may perceive as significant?

5. What is your “why”? Are you honest with yourself about what drives you?

So, you see – whether a job is or isn’t a thing of dreams is entirely dependent upon your subjective idea of what is dream-worthy. An idea that can change with ease, if you get real with yourself about what you value.

I have always had a theory that most people don’t actually want to be rich; they just believe that being rich will bring happiness. Sure, more cash on hand provides more luxuries and ensures your basic needs are met. However, I don’t believe most people want things and status so much that it outweighs the desire to live an intentional, impactful life. Our society is just structured in such a way where anything that doesn’t include the pursuit of wealth isn’t a viable alternative to pursue at all. But following the suggestion to focus on what can be controlled in your life, why not try to find happiness in a way that doesn’t depend only on what you have? Why not listen to your gut and allow what inspires you to guide what you do?

To Close

At the end of the day, choosing to lead a mission-driven life is entirely up to you and your value system. This selection is less a judgment of the choice to prioritize monetary gain over mental health (as this choice was literally ingrained in many of us growing up), and more an invitation to consider an uncommon approach to your work life. In my purview, what you do is infinitely more important than what it pays you or what others think of it.

It’s hard to perceive a cup as half full when you’re more concerned about whether the cup itself is made of styrofoam or china glass.

Wealth and prestige, well fine in themselves, drive so much of what we do, where we want to live, and how we choose to engage with others. When it comes to the thing(s) you will be doing for the majority of your adult life, I believe it is reasonable to make special considerations and ask certain questions that scrutinize the methods and practices behind how you choose to spend that time.

A fulfilling personal life is almost synonymous with a gratifying professional life, given the investment of time and energy we each bestow upon our crafts. If you’re going to sacrifice physically and mentally no matter what you do, why not do something that makes those sacrifices worth it?

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Adefoluke Shemsu

Just a guy who happens to be inspired by curiosity about complex concepts, the things that move civilization, and the underappreciated elements of who we are.