Job + meaning = purpose

The late American poet, Robert Frost, was not afraid of hard labour. After a short stint at Harvard University in the late 1890s, he moved to a farm his grandfather had purchased in New Hampshire and worked it for nine years, spending the wee hours writing many of the poems that brought him fame. Frost often chronicled the actions of ordinary men and later, teaching at some of America’s most elite schools, observed of white-collar life: “The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.” For Frost, honest toil and teaching enabled him to pursue his real work: writing the poetry that won him four Pulitzer Prizes. His wry observation presaged a modern cri de coeur. London Business School professor, Lynda Gratton, has written widely on the changing work paradigm and our quest for meaning. “The formula for the traditional deal at work is: I work… to earn money… which I use… to consume stuff… which makes me happy,” Gratton says.I suggested that this deal is not a sufficient description of what work can and should be.” Gratton proposes an alternative deal, where individuals work to gain productive experiences that form the basis of their happiness. In The Shift: The future of work is already here, she provides 10 questions designed to help define a productive experience and what ‘meaningful’ really means. In a new book published this month, How Will You Measure Your Life?, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen picks up the meaningful work theme, distinguishing between ‘hygiene’ factors – status, compensation, job security, work conditions and the like – and motivation factors – challenging work, recognition, responsibility, and personal growth. “As we were all considering our post-graduation plans, we’d try to keep ourselves honest,” Christensen reflects on his early years. “‘What about doing something you really love?’  ‘Don’t worry,’ came back the answer. ‘This is just for a couple of years. I’ll pay off my loans, get myself in a good financial position. Then I’ll chase my real dreams.’” One of the world’s most highly regarded innovation researchers, Christensen has written of his battle with cancer and the challenge of balancing hygiene and motivation factors to achieve work with deep meaning. “Once you get this right,” he says, “the more measureable aspects of your job will fade in importance. As the saying goes; find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

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