Sunday, February 12, 2012

Is your work meaningful?

I recently finished reading an excellent book about success - Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He wrote about meaningful work in his book, because he saw that successful people have role models for their success, and often that is a parent who is engaged in meaningful work.

You probably had a parent who was engaged in meaningful work when you were growing up. I'm going to give the example of my Dad , who has been done meaningful work his whole life. In my life he has had two different jobs - firstly as a captain of a container ship taking cargo from Australia to Asia, and then as a pilot guiding ships through the Great Barrier Reef.  I will use Dad as an example to explain what meaningful work is.

Mum and Dad on their wedding day in Sydney, 1978. Dad  is wearing his merchant navy uniform.

Dad has autonomy in his work - as a ships’ pilot he goes onto a ship by himself, goes up to the bridge, and expertly advises the ship’s captain on what route take to avoid the myriad of reefs and shallow passages.

Dad has complexity - the reef is constantly changing, with the bottom of the sea is not a constant depth with the sand moving all the time. He has to use all his experience at sea and knowledge of the reef, while trying to communicate on the bridge of the ship, often with at least three different nationalities present. He has to get home after weeks away to complete a bunch of paperwork as he is technically running his own business as a pilot.

He also sees the connection between effort and results. Ships are successfully guided through the reef. Captains of the ships he has piloted thank him for his assistance. He is invited back to pilot cruise ships and US navy ships.  He is paid for each ship that he pilots.

Dad giving a speech at our wedding in Israel, 2011
So let’s say that you grew up in similar circumstances to me - you got a good education, went to good universities, and then went out and got a good job as a doctor or a lawyer or a financial expert or something like that. Well we thought we'd get great jobs and do meaningful work like our parents. But somewhere along the way we realised that our work wasn’t what we thought it would be.

Suddenly we were told that the world of work has changed, and we’ll probably have many different jobs in our lifetime, not just one like our parents. And often we will be working in large organisations where we have no chance of seeing the impact of our hard work. And a lot of the time our heads will be occupied not with some challenging problem in our field, but in trying to figure out some organisation change that makes it impossible to focus on our work. And most of the time we just sit at desks and send a bunch of emails anyway, only some of which are ever responded to. And autonomy? Well our only autonomy in those offices is looking at Facebook, which reminds us that we are autonomous individuals with friends that don't have to do what our boss says.

Now I'm realising that there is a huge number of people like me - late 20s or 30s, educated and on the hunt for meaningful work. And the exciting thing is that there is more opportunity and variety of work available to us than ever before. We don't have to work in a large company. We don't have to work for nothing in a small company either. We can do our own thing, create what we want, and find success. Now is the time of the micro-company, the freelancer, the self-publisher, the teacher and the online business owner.

Go us!

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