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Basically, you have two paths in your career life: the path that earns you most money, or the path that earns you most meaning. Both of these paths would earn reputation and would have some sort of a “ladder” to climb up to, but the heart of each is essentially different.

The path that earns you most money would most probably make sure you have good money to spend on life’s material things, like housing, cars, travels, gadgets, and with a little dilligence in money management, it can get you a good retirement.

The path that earns you meaning would most probably make sure you have peace within you and with others, make impact to the society and leave a footprint for others to follow. It might not buy you all the shiny stuff, but enough stuff to survive, and again, if you can money-manage very carefully, it can probably get you a decent retirement.

The money-earning path would buy you things, let you see places, and generally give you ample buffer to move around life’s opportunities. If you have a family, this would probably the first choice, since you want to make sure they live a good and adequate life.

The meaning-earning path would buy you experience, lets you also see places (although probably in surprising ways!), and generally leave you with a little buffer to move around life’s opportunities, especially if you live in such “modern life” settings like cities where demands to survive are defined by money.

Is there a third option? Perhaps. There might be a path where you earn good money and lets you discover meaning in your work. That path is where you work on something that impacts a lot of people’s lives in meaningful ways.

My past manager, when discovering that I was moving to an e-commerce startup, said to me in disdain, “If I were you, I would move to a company that actually solves real-world problems. I don’t think e-commerce does that.”

I was silenced a little, thinking about his words.

Solving real-world problems.

Then, I was immediately struck by the realisation that many of the companies that I know don’t actually solve this. Most of what they do is to raise money, make money and particularly for startup founders, they aim to exit with most profit. Thus, stock options.

I am not saying that companies shouldn’t make money, or employees shouldn’t opt for stock options. Eventually, you know you’ll need money. It’s just the way companies frame businesses is downright competitive. They are in it to win it and let others lose. Why can’t we make everyone win, including the employees?

There is a couple of ways companies can build products that can solve real-world problems. I’ve seen a startup who actually creates fish-feeding technology that help local fisheries, education startup that is a marketplace for private tutors, helping individual and small-to-medium businesses thrive, connecting medical labs to customers who need them, culinary startups who help local kitchens, and many more.

I don’t think we need more B2B ecommerce, although I’m sure they make hefty money. I believe we need more C2C ecommerce that actually helps small businesses to thrive.

For employees, like me, I believe we have the power to help shift the focus of whoever we work for to do with more solving real-world problems on the ground. This can be done by continually advocating to solve local problems first instead of doing it in a worldly scale and be too ambitious about it.

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Reflections on digital product design, travel, food and the in-betweens. Finding my compass.

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