"In the face of longstanding evidence that routinization and an overemphasis on pay lead to worse performance in the workplace, why have we continued to tolerate and even embrace that approach to work?"
Barry Schwartz - Rethinking Work - The New York Times 8.28.15
We are more than our work. Have we considered for a second that the blame for worker disengagement is not entirely the fault of the people we work for? Could it be our desire that someone provide us with the kind of work that gives us meaning is an impossible expectation? I believe the level of disengagement we are seeing is 10% our employers fault and 90% our own fault. I believe we are elevating work to a level that could never meet our expectations. Think about it. We long to have a job or career that gives us meaning and gets us out of bed in the morning, but the very nature of work is that it will ultimately go away and eventually disappoint us. You might be sitting in your dream job right now with all the perks you can imagine and read this and say, "What a load of crock!" Equally delusional, there is a person recently laid off who is saying, "Preach on brother!" Would it surprise you to believe that both of these people are a slave to the same master. They both elevate their jobs or employers as the champion of their happiness and despair.
How do I know this is delusional? Because I was a slave to the same master. I lost a job that I considered to be a part of my meaning in this life. And when it was gone, I felt lost and without purpose. All I was doing was worshiping my job. I wasn't really embracing a cause. I didn't really have a mission. I wanted a job, so I didn't have to tell people that I didn't have one. If I really believed in my cause, I would have fought for it and found other work that made it a reality. It's taken time. I've done that now, but it took a lot of time!
Timothy Keller, the head pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, talks to over 5,000 people each week. A large portion of them are millennial executives. He says this about jobs,
"A job is a vocation only if someone else calls you to do it for them rather than for yourself. And so our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person."
Timothy Keller, Pastor - Redeemer Presberterian Church, Manhattan
I thought about the scene in City Slickers when Billy Crystal returns home from his dude ranch experience and is wife tells him it's ok if he quits his job. He says, "No, I'm just going to do it better. I'm going to do everything better." Then his wife says, "Everything?"
Prior to leaving for his dude ranch trip, Billy Crystal's character was making his work that is ultimately temporary the very meaning of his life, and in so doing he continued to be disappointed. The truth remains that anything natural or man-made is temporary. Even your spouse and children will go away and so will we. That's right, you're temporary. Anything natural or man-made will eventually hurt us in some way because it's guaranteed to change from its current form. A basic example is a car. We love it in the beginning, but then it falls a part and then we can't wait to get rid of it. However, remember how excited that car made you when you first bought it. You imagined how you would be perceived pulling up in it. Then you're on the side of the road, cursing at it and all of a sudden your pride and joy is fallible. Ok, so is the meaning of this article that anything on the earth or universe is temporary and unworthy of our meaning, so we have zero to look forward to and we should just crawl in a hole, never love anything and say there's nothing worth living for? BS!
The logic of the solution is quite simple. The only way we can truly love our work, our spouses, ourselves, our children or anything worth loving in this life is to center our meaning on what Timothy Keller calls "The Immutable." Immutable means something that never changes or cannot be changed. So I thought about what could possibly fall into this category. What never changes or cannot be changed? I made a quick list trying to avoid one of the obvious choices.
- The Sun
- The Solar System
- The Universe
- My virtues and values
As much as I thought about it, I could not see how the sun, nature, the solar system, time, science or even my own virtues and values are unchangeable or remain consistent. They all are changing constantly or dissipating with energy all the time. The Stoics believed that the only thing you can trust is your own virtue, but think about how much your values and virtues have changed since you were a child. Then I had to address the dark horse on the list...God. Does the concept or the idea of God ever change?
Let me ask you a question before you think this is an article about conversion. The most loving and fulfilled people in the world have acknowledged their born gifts and used them in the service of the greater good. Isn't that life an outward expression of something invisible? Isn't that life a demonstration that we all have gifts that can be used in the service of others? Where did those gifts come from? Are they from genetics? Are they from the place I was born? In his 1994 biography, "A Long Walk To Freedom" Nelson Mandela said,
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
Now this is where I need you to be open minded. What if there were a focal point for every person on the planet that brings ultimate meaning and love. A focal point that can help ease the noise of our culture and the noise of our jobs. What if that is real and everyone already has it? Would you do work the same way? Would you love your spouse the same way? Would you love a stranger the same way? What if you were not an accident? What if you were put here with a very specific set of skills that were meant to make large differences in the world? What if this had nothing to do with where you born, how you grew up or how much money your family has?
I'm not talking about an existence free of struggle. Quite the contrary. I'm talking about the notion that for the first time, we begin to see a reason worthy of enduring our struggles. I'm talking about a reason worthy of us truly rejoicing in things like wine, food, sex, marriage, nature, success and money. A reason that finds beauty in everything, even disappointment. What if?
The book Unbroken, recently made into a major motion picture tells the story of Louis Zamperini. In the book, Zamperini says, "There's always an after to everything." What's your after? We usually look at Friday as our after to our work week. It's the thing that we look forward to, so we can tolerate the rest of what goes on. Knowing now that you, your work, your house, your family are all temporary, what can you focus on that is immutable? What is "the after" that will help you begin to see that you are more than your work?
"There's always an after to everything."
Louis Zamperini - True story told in the book, UNBROKEN