Once you get to the point in your career where you realize a) you’ll be just fine financially (because your resume kicks ass), b) your company doesn’t give a sh*t about you, and c) you know what the Right Thing to do is, act like a volunteer.
In 2009 I determined the best way to quickly validate and harden the Windows Phone 7 app platform was to enable Microsoft employees to write apps for it in their spare time. At the time, Microsoft’s policies were designed to scare employees away from working on businesses on the side (called “moonlighting”). This was a stupid policy borne out of a different era and Brandon Watson and I succeeded in changing it and enabling hundreds of employees to build some great phone apps (including BubbleGum by Aarti and Shriram).
Getting the WP7 moonlighting policy implemented is one of my favorite examples of “it’s the right thing to do, and I’m gonna ruthlessly push it through. If they fire me over it, f**k ‘em”. In other words, I acted like a volunteer.
At some point in your career, you’ll realize money isn’t THAT important and that your résumé and network mean you will always be able to find another fun job. This realization won’t come unless you work at realizing it. When it does, you’re partway to being a volunteer.
You’ll also wake up someday and realize no matter how much you bleed Microsoft Green, Amazon Orange, Google Black (?), etc., the company actually is an indifferent autonomous machine that doesn’t care about you at all. This realization will also help you become a volunteer.
You probably started your career with a bit of impostors syndrome and you emulated others as you progressed. At some point, you’ll start to realize YOU KNOW the Right Way. IOW, you’ll become a principled leader. This is the final piece enabling the volunteer in you.
A volunteer can quit at any time. A volunteer only does work because they know it’s Right. Right for the customer. Right for other employees. Right for the World.
Once you adopt the volunteer mindset, you’ll become bold. You’ll become a force for Good change. You’ll eagerly push through the corporate bullsh*t and kick bad politics in the balls. Your work will be more fulfilling.
So, “Be a volunteer.”
(Thanks to my mentor and friend, Chris Phillips, for introducing me to the Be A Volunteer concept back in the day).