Work is a financial necessity for almost everyone, along with the sacrifices work sometimes demands. It can be drudgery. But work also can be fun and exciting. The competition can be energizing. Work can be an important and positive part of our lives.
I learned a lot about this from Amy Wrzesniewski and her work with job crafting (PDF). She describes three attitudes about work — what she calls jobs, careers, and callings. These three attitudes can indicate how satisfied individuals are in the workplace. Identifying your own outlook toward work can help you define what you need — or want — in your professional life.
People with a "jobs" mindset are working for the money and contain their time at work. All of the people I've known with this attitude tend to be dissatisfied, finding little meaning in what they do. They also are generally looking for something new.
Careerists work for advancement, pay, and prestige. I've seen careerists with widely different levels of happiness and satisfaction. If they think they're "winning," they're happy. But others are concerned they're not advancing at the pace they want, or they're not in the role they deserve. While not entirely dissatisfied, they often wonder whether they're being treated fairly or if there's something better.
But people with callings are different. They see their work as a positive end in itself. They feel good about what they're doing. They give more to their work. They get more from it. And here's a secret about people with callings: Not only are they happy and fulfilled, they're often very successful, sometimes bringing financial rewards.
Individuals with callings differ because of what they prioritize in their work. Their goals are distinctive in three ways:
1. They emphasize service. People with callings put a higher priority on helping others. Some are guided by the kind of lofty purpose that's associated with leaders in religion, public service, or charity work. Others operate their businesses to serve their markets in ways that make customers better off.
Brian (names have been changed) is a good example. After finishing his MBA, he got a well-paid position with a socially conscious mutual fund. He liked the fund's purpose, but he felt little connection between what he did and his desire to improve the planet. Then he had an idea — to provide a new category of food product that would improve diets. Even though his second baby was about to arrive, he took the risk to make this happen. He left the fund to found his own company, knowing he'd be living on his savings. Brian came to life. A decade later, with his products on many retail shelves, Brian remains excited about what he's doing, how he spends his days, and how it benefits people. It's a calling.
2. They emphasize craftsmanship. People with callings prioritize what I call craftsmanship. They want to make things happen and to be excellent in their fields, not just because of potential growth in their company but because they believe those things are intrinsically worthwhile.
Take manufacturing CEO Steve. Steve tightly focuses his personal value proposition on what he does best — leading manufacturing companies that need significant improvement in operations. Steve spots the complexity in operational processes before most others do. In a senior position, he's had to learn how to become more than just a thinker; he's learned how to mobilize and how to teach. That's the only kind of position he'll consider — both to continue his high performance and to deepen his expertise. Steve's a craftsman.
3. They de-emphasize money. In making career decisions, people with callings push money to the background, instead choosing to focus on what a new role has to offer beyond its monetary rewards. No one I've known with a calling has had income as one of their top career objectives.
Nathan's emphasis on service and accomplishment replaced his need for a significant paycheck. His childhood interest in education grew stronger in college when he saw the challenges facing children in urban schools. He became a teacher in a low income school and was excited to see the impact he was having on his students and their families. He declined promotions in the school system that would have increased his pay but taken him away from these students. He only moved to headquarters when the new role offered broad influence in teaching across multiple schools. Two years later, the school district promoted him to principal at the young age of 29.
Most people want the job satisfaction that comes with having a calling. If you see your work as merely a job or career, ask yourself if your outlook or priorities need to change. One route may be to redefine your tasks (PDF) or the way you think about your work to put greater emphasis on service and on craftsmanship. If you can reconfigure your work like this, you may find a calling or at least greater meaning and happiness. If you can't, then it may be time to think about finding another position.
What else should you emphasize — or de-emphasize — to make your work more satisfying?