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For the past few years, I’ve run an annual morning workshop on email etiquette for a medical device sales company. Every time I’ve run the workshop, I’m astonished by the need that I feel in the room for it: the thirst for having a discussion about all the little ins and outs of writing something so seemingly simple as an email. There are no rules, very few absolutes, to govern how we write professional emails, which is probably why there is no formal “curriculum,” but then without an explicitly defined set of guidelines, these professionals who have developed all their practices on the fly seem to write with that slightly nagging bit of uncertainty in the back of their mind.

It make sense. So much depends on the details, the subtlest decisions they make about how they craft their outreach to their potential clientele. I’m dubbed an expert because I know how to name, organize, and facilitate discussions on those most basic components. I think about my own experience, how central the skill of written communication has been to my working life, how so many of my job opportunities would never have been available without these skills. There’s no way I’d be able to make it on my own without writing and without a certain level of emotional intelligence. So much of it feels so intuitive, but then, in reality, I’ve acquired and developed those skills piece by piece according to all the different environments I’ve worked in.

Going into the corporate sales environment is great for me—in short spurts. I enjoy looking in as the outsider, riding the respect that I receive for my status as communications expert, having conversations with people whose vocational orientation has been defined by a highly competitive, hierarchical, achievement-centric culture. I wouldn’t last a month in that environment. I feel like I’d shrivel up and turn into dust. And not because I don’t get along with the people (I like them a lot), and not because I disagree wholesale with the way business is conducted and the culture is curated (this particular training program is pinned around soft skills, emotional intelligence, and opening salespeople’s minds to a less conventional career path with the company). So then what?

I rise to the occasion when something feels like my own—like I’ve poured my heart and soul into it, and as it’s my creative work, I can stand behind it wholeheartedly. I’m not ego-driven enough to place importance on leaving my mark as much as I am by the feeling that my work has purpose. It has meaning to me in that it aligns with the principles that I believe make the world a better, healthier, more constructive place for its inhabitants. In that sense, if it leaves a mark, great, but it feels like work should never expressly be about the act of leaving a mark.

But how could corporate culture function without demonstrable results—without measurable impact? That’s where I couldn’t hack it, personally. But for the young people whose future is corporate-bound, how do we orient them according to internal motivation while maintaining awareness of the external demands of their work environment?

By Nick Soper