HOW Keynoter Dorie Clark on Finding Meaning in Your Work

The New York Times has described Dorie Clark as “an expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” The top-selling author, teacher and speaker takes the stage in Boston at HOW Design Live as a first-time keynote presenter. Her upcoming book Entrepreneurial You follows on her previous titles, including Reinventing You and Stand Out.

Because you may not know Clark or her work, we recently exchanged questions and answers to introduce you.

You have such an interesting resume … you were clearly a bright and hungry student as a young person, you’re a business professor with a theology degree, you’ve worked in politics, nonprofits and film. What’s the thread that ties all of these pursuits together for you?

It took me a while, in retrospect, to find the thread that connected my various professions (besides simply finding them all interesting). Ultimately, though, I realized that theology is fundamentally the study of how people find meaning in their lives—and in contemporary society, our careers serve much the same purpose. The first question is always, “What do you do?” and we mean, “Who are you?” So if you can help people find more satisfaction and meaning in their careers, you’re really helping them find more meaning in their lives—and that’s what I try to help do.

At HOW, you’ll be speaking to an audience of creative professionals … folks who probably have more than a little entrepreneurialism inside them. How can they tap that spirit, even if they’re working in large organizations and not self-employed entrepreneurs themselves?

You can be—and should be—an entrepreneurial thinker even if you work inside an organization. Designers and creative professionals are especially good at this. First, it’s about questioning the constraints: Why has it been done this way before, and has the situation changed, or are the operating premises still true?

And then, once the constraints are set, looking for novel (often cheaper and better) ways to achieve the objective. One of my favorite examples in “Entrepreneurial You” is John Lee Dumas, who became one of the most successful business podcasters by recognizing that if he produced a daily podcast, rather than weekly (as everyone else was doing), he could immediately 7x his download numbers and therefore land significant sponsorship revenue. That set off a chain reaction that led to his growing prominence and financial successes, and it came from understanding that if he tweaked one variable, everything could change.

Your books Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You and Stand Out seem to have a common theme that starts with looking inward to find what inspires you. What keeps people from finding that inner spark and releasing it to the world? What’s the most prominent roadblock we all face in this?   

In American culture, there’s a push toward personal branding: we know it’s necessary and good for our careers. And yet, I’ve been surprised to realize, in giving hundreds of talks about the topic and interacting with many talented professionals, the extent to which many people feel at war with themselves about the process. There’s “imposter syndrome,” which has us doubting whether we’re actually qualified to profess expertise, and “tall poppy syndrome,” which has us worrying that others will be critical (and potentially “chop us down”) if we put ourselves out there. Addressing these internal struggles is often the first step in owning your brand effectively.

Tell us a bit about your upcoming presentation at HOW Design Live.

I’ll be speaking about “Building Your Brand as a Creative Professional.” So often, we’re focused on helping our clients build powerful brands and we neglect our own. It’s just as important to be strategic in thinking about our own careers and ensuring that we’re perceived in the marketplace the way we’d like to be. When we have a strong brand, it draws high quality clients and projects to us—no more pounding the pavement or begging for business. Your brand, when done right, allows you to charge the premium prices you deserve.

So … it’s the start of a new year … what bit of motivational advice would you give to the HOW audience as they look ahead to 2018?

I think it’s useful to think about “waves” in our professional lives. So often, the discourse around goals and New Year’s Resolutions is about starting X or stopping Y. Instead, I recommend thinking about how to shift your emphasis to a targeted area that you may have been underinvesting in; it’s a constant balance. For instance, in 2017, I launched my new book, Entrepreneurial You. That meant a lot of interviews, travel and outward-focused activities. This year, I’m planning to do quieter, more “heads-down” work to optimize existing processes and research and create new content. It’s a necessary correction and part of a cycle.

Hear Dorie Clark’s guidance on building your personal brand, planning for waves in your professional life and building a career that inspires you at HOW Design Live.

She joins keynote speakers including Dan Pink and Nick Law, plus a host of bright, brave and generous session presenters. Browse the full HOW Design Live agenda—including The Dieline Conference and HOW Marketing Live.

Register by February 1 for the best pricing of the year. And you can upgrade your Big Ticket to include HOW Marketing Live for just $99. Get all the scoop on registration packages and rates.