Finding Meaning in Your Work
Finding Meaning in Your Work
or Where Do You Want to Go and Can You Get There From Here?
So yesterday I posted a blog entry titled: “Why Do You Do What You Do?” It took a quick look at the difference it can make in your work life if you will take the time to ask “Why” questions about your job fit, rather than simply looking for quick fix answers to your discontent or poor job fit – things I called “What” answers.
Writing the blog got me thinking about the things that drive us to seek “What” answers. I began thinking about the reasons “Whys” behind those times when I search for that thing (the What) that will satisfy my craving, longing, dis-ease, discomfort or pain. I offered three general ideas; that we live in a society that sells us the idea that particular products will solve our problems; that due to a variety of reasons we want expedient or immediate relief; and, that more is required of us if we are to pursue answers to “Why” questions.
But the more I thought about the idea of pursuing a “Why” question in relation to our work the more I began to wonder if part of the problem isn’t related to our view of time. You see, when most of us are in uncomfortable situations we unconsciously move toward relief from our discomfort. It’s the Flight part of the age-old “Fight or Flight” scenario our high school psychology teacher taught us. Under duress almost all creatures will take action to move out of or away from the source or cause of their discomfort.
I said “almost all” because this isn’t universal, it doesn’t apply across the board, especially with human beings. While there are certain aberrations of this rule to be found in nature (including animals that include biting and other elements of pain in their mating rituals), by-and-large only human beings willfully place themselves in stressful or pain causing situations.
For example, for decades my favorite way to exercise has been riding bicycles. In fact, during a period in my thirties and forties I actually trained to be able to participate in “century rides” of 100 kilometers or 100 miles. Training for such things requires working to increase your endurance, your strength, and to develop the mental toughness required to finish the ride when all of your energy stores are depleted. In short, I routinely put my body in situations that caused pain in order to be capable to go further and faster.
We see this all the time in athletics, though we sometimes fail to understand that premier athletes didn’t accomplish their level of strength, skill, finesse or endurance simply by choosing to participate in their respective sport. And, we marvel at the longevity of premier athletes like Serena Williams, Tom Brady, or Michael Phelps without stopping to consider the complete focus on diet, sleep, exercise and recovery techniques that their continued success requires of them. They willingly take their bodies into situations of controlled stress and pain to improve or maintain their ability to achieve their goals. Even those of us who’ve followed these people and sometimes attempted to emulate their approaches so seldom apply these principles to our work lives.
In his book, The Principle of The Path, author Andy Stanley notes that no one attains success by making a single, life-changing decision but, rather, that the person who accomplishes something noteworthy did so by making multiple, consistent decisions over a long time. It’s something akin to the turning of the New Year one week ago. Across America there are millions of people who resolved to make 2019 somehow different from the previous year or years. Millions have changed their diets, begun new exercise regimens, invested in apps or planners to make them more productive, thrown out old clothes or a hundred other things in order to attain some goal they embraced in December. Yet, on average only eight (8) percent of those who began the year with a resolution will maintain it to the end of this year (Forbes, 2013). Ninety-two percent will fall by the wayside because they failed to make consistent decisions for the 364 days that followed New Year’s Day.
So, how does this apply to our work, job fit, and vocational satisfaction?
When we look for quick solutions to our job discomfort we usually fail to take the long view that leads to great, impactful vocational decisions. Quick solutions are based on escaping our current job discomfort, they are temporal – time bound – and fail to consider where we want to go and what we want to be. If we are to have the impactful work life most of us want then we must make decisions with “the end in mind”, to borrow a phrase from Stephen Covey. That is, what is the meaning we want associated with the sum total of our life’s work and what does that say about the actions we must consistently take in order to attain that meaning?
Some of you may be thinking, “Why are you waxing philosophical about the meaning of my work when you’re supposed to provide practical solutions to this ‘bad job fit’ thing you keep talking about?” Please consider the time-honored idea of a mid-life crisis, something I’ve experienced with clients dozens of times. A man or woman works hard for twenty-something years to provide enough money for his or her family to live at a certain level. Then something inside them shifts and that person suddenly finds it’s no longer enough to simply fill a need, they recognize a longing for their work to mean more than the satiation of needs or wants. It’s the primary reason I include a Life Priorities exercise in my work, so that clients can think about what they want to achieve through their work.
Determining where you want your work to lead, what impact you want it to have on the world, to define the meaning of your work – these are substantial ideas that aren’t addressed with quick fix answers. Then, if you’re able to define these long term objectives, attaining them will require that you make multiple, consistent decisions over a long time.
For additional reading on this topic I suggest these books:
Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller www.amazon.com/Every-Good-EndeavorHow Then Should We
Work by Hugh Whelchel amazon.com/How-Then-Should-Work
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl amazon.com/Mans-Search-Meaning
If you prefer videos then Simon Sinek has a couple of YouTube videos on the idea of Leadership based on Game Theory. The connection to thinking about your career path in long-term ways is his distinction of “Finite Games” with short-term objectives versus “Infinite Games” with long-term objectives. Even if you have no interest in these, Sinek is an engaging and entertaining speaker. The links are: