Working for the Right Reasons

Reflections on Workplace Perspective…..

The seven dwarfs -- stilling working after all these years.  Although paying the bills is the primary motivator, you must also pay your soul with fulfilling and purposeful work.

The seven dwarfs -- stilling working after all these years. Although paying the bills is the primary motivator, you must also pay your soul with fulfilling and purposeful work.

Why do most of us work? The answer is simple. “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go”. Clearly this reality is not about to change any time soon, in spite of the “leisure society” that sociologists of the 1960’s promised would soon become our way of life.

For most of us going to work is not a choice.  We have chosen to eat and live under a roof; so, in the absence of a wealthy benefactor, we must of all necessity set the alarm clock at 6:00am or earlier every workday morning — rain or shine, hail or sleet, we hop in the car, wait at the terminal so we can work. And as our incomes increase most of us pay tribute to our material culture by “investing” in larger homes, more luxurious cars and toys of all descriptions.  And through this decision we reaffirm our need to spend our weekdays in huge mirrored towers oblivious of the sun.

How important is money as a motivator for going to work?  How did you choose your career?  Did you select your career based upon what you love to do with your time or did you opt for work that pays well?  Do you feel trapped by your lifestyle, such that leaving what you do is too great of a stretch?  Do you look forward to going to work, or do you find the workplace a source of stress and anxiety?

Clearly money is and will always be a significant reason for enduring extensive commutes, bad bosses and monotonous work assignments; however, in the final analysis, it will be just one of many influences.

In this post, I want to encourage you to reflect upon two related “showing up for work” issues:

First, in your life, does money overpower all other rationales for working? Can you feel the stench of that ominous black shadow of debt and the devastating threat of bankruptcy? Are other motivators such as meaning and purpose subjugated by money fears?  You have a choice to take action and restore the balance in your life.

Elizabeth Pineau (Reuters, March 25, 2009) reported that designer Kenzo Takado was downsizing his life, selling off his Paris home and many of his art treasures and antiquities. “Today I want to turn a page and live differently, more free, lighter,” the 70-year-old told reporters. This is not a new story; we frequently hear of people who need to downsize their lives as though they are possessed by their material obsessions. Clearly, the stuff we accumulate will encumber our emotional and spiritual capacity and influence our peacefulness, our joyfulness, our freedom and ultimately the clarity of our decisions.

A young man I know was raised in a good family but with very little in terms of possessions. From childhood, he was determined to show the world that he could succeed in this material world and of course, demonstrate to others his personal worth and self esteem through his accumulation of personal possessions. Through great determination and resourcefulness, he worked two and sometimes three jobs. He immediately spent each pay cheque, first on a house, then on home furnishings, clothing and travel. He was topped up and his lifestyle was defined by work required to maintain his stuff. He was, of course, exhausted and then it happened; he lost the most lucrative of his positions. His immediate response was sadness and anger, as the meaning that surrounded his life was being threatened. Like Mr. Takado, he will also have the choice of chaos or order – bringing balance into his life, positioning important rationales where they should have been.

Second, have you thought about why you are working? Let me rephrase – beyond paying the bills and sustaining your family, what are your underlying motivations for showing up to work everyday?

Looking at the working conditions of those 65 years of age and over could offer some enlightenment on this issue. It is clear that many Canadians in this cohort want to continue working even though they can safely retire. Leigh Felesky and Amil Niazi (Your Top 10:Reasons to Keep Working, Monday, July 21st, 2008, ) raise the court case of one New Brunswick miner whose desire to continue working was thwarted by The Supreme Court of Canada. In their post, Felesky and Niazi cite a range of reasons why people like potash miner, Melrose Scott, want to continue working after the age of 65: job satisfaction and downright enjoyment, learning about new things and keeping the mind sharp and just plain keeping busy.

There is another very important reason and perhaps overriding rationale for going to work – to make a difference, to give to humanity, to make the world a better place. In other words, my work should have purpose and allow me to serve humanity.

Although there is a continuum of importance, most jobs can be defined by their value; that is, a creative manager will find a way to ensure that the work of all his staff ties into a meaningful purpose. If you understand how your work fits into a bigger scheme and that it is important to the achievement of that goal, you will be more committed and extract greater enjoyment from your work.

For those working for non-profit groups whose work directly serves the needs of a defined community, the purpose is immediately clear. Further, the importance of this work may be so important to those in the organization that they will willingly take lower pay to be a part of a hands-on and goal-oriented team. Further, just about everyone on the team will out of necessity wear a variety of hats to accomplish essential tasks.

In conclusion, starting from a concept of service to humanity will change the way you see your work and perhaps alter your career plan. Baha’u’llah stresses the importance of service,

“Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches”.

Please participate in a dialogue on this issue. Is your reason for working clear? Are you the problem or can your organization help in making reasons for working clearer? Do you have any workplace challenges? Please share them with me.

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