Work. It’s what we do. Recent estimates suggest we spend 100,000 hours of our adult lives working. At its best, it gives us meaning and a sense of achievement. Paradoxically, it gives us freedom. Work helps us feed our families, support our communities, and improve the world. At its worst, it grinds us down, wears us out, and traps us in a life of boredom or worse, despair. Seems kinda important that we make the right choices about it, huh?
As humans, we’re wired to think about ourselves first. We can’t be much help to others if we don’t. That’s especially true of work given it provides the means for our survival and that of our families. So we acknowledge the “me first” need. But in the same way we think that “me first” capitalism is actually hurting us, stopping at “me first” when it comes to thinking about work might be harmful too — to you and others.
Or, on the other hand, perhaps we need more “me first” thinking, but perhaps framed a little differently. “Me first” when it comes to work shouldn’t just be about feeding your family, it should also be about feeding your soul. There’s ample psychological evidence that work feels a lot more like, ummm, work, if what you do or how you do it is in conflict with your internal value system.
Simply ask yourself “Do I live my values at work?” Of course, there’s one prerequisite for being able to answer that question. You have to know your values. If you’re like most of us, you could rhyme off some values that approximate your priorities. But have you really taken the time to choose the 3-5 that matter most? You might be surprised when you do. You might identify hidden sources of conflict in your work life that suggest now might be a good time to look for a different job. Or you may learn why you love the job you’re in, and choose to double-down and work even harder at it.
Our basic presumption is this: If most people were clear on their values (priorities), and used them at work, several good things would happen. They’d be happier, better at their job, and they’d help create better companies. And the companies that live in the ethical grey zones would have a harder time getting good, smart, centred people to work for them
We saw a great quote on this recently. Social activist Bernice Johnson Reagon, in the documentary “Wisdom” said, “If you are part of the system, you in some way help that system to be what it is. It’s not just (the fault of) those people over there.”
So in your job, are you enabling a “system” that you’re proud of? Or are you taking home your pay-cheque along with a bag full of unease. Hey, we all do things out of necessity. But when we lose sight of the difference, we’re in trouble, as individuals and as a society.
To end this post on a high note, let us introduce you to Clay Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and author of the recent book “How will you measure your life?” You can find a Forbes Mag interview with him here:
His assertion is simple. A meaningful life, of which work is a huge part, comes from clarity about values and adherence to them, day-by-day, decision-by-decision.
For us at Citizen Capitalism, it’s another example of how the quality of the world we live in doesn’t magically happen. It’s a compilation of the quality of the daily decisions we each make. Given we make a lot of them at work, and those decisions often affect many of our co-workers, the importance of living our values there is every bit as important as it is in our personal lives. It’s not about being perfect because nobody is. But it is about making more conscious daily choices.
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