Autonomy is a major theme on Mad Men. Who has more power to control your story and your life — is it you, or everyone else?

For example, when the execs at ad agency Sterling Cooper learn their ad agency is about to be sold (again) at the end of season three, they conspire to buy their agency back and regain autonomy. This happens despite the fact that each of them stands to earn a huge payout in the pending deal.

So why not just go along for the ride?

Don Draper sums it up in one sentence:

“I want to work.”

With Sterling Cooper having already been sold and restructured a year ago, Draper explains that he’s not in this for the paycheck, and definitely not for the office politics. He simply wants to do work that means something (to him, at least).

Remember What It Means to Have a Purpose?

In our modern society, finance dominates our headlines. People are hyper-aware of dollar signs, and what the absence of available money denies us in terms of opportunities and experiences.

But what’s often lost in the discussion about our need for work is that work is about more than just the paycheck it brings. Work is about purpose.

Work isn’t just a title, or a job description, or an answer to all those cocktail party questions of “so, what do you do?” Work can provide us with true purpose, in the sense of waking up in the morning and knowing that what you’re about to devote the next 8 to 12 hours of your life to actually matters. Maybe not to everyone, and maybe not to anyone other than you personally.

But especially to you personally.

It’s Never Too Late to Succeed

On Mad Men, the iconic Don Draper seems to have it all, but he actually has nothing.

His family, his friendships, even his identity is entirely an illusion — and one that he works tirelessly to sustain. With his personal and professional lives collapsing, he finally clarifies what actually matters to him: creating something that didn’t exist before, and judging himself according to his own actions.

That a character as tragically flawed as Don Draper should still demand to be judged ultimately by his actions says a lot about what the rest of us say too rarely.

Is what you do every day providing you with purpose?

If it is, how can you help others find their purpose?

And if it isn’t… what do you need to change?


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