Alternate Perspectives on Work

Does one have to work? Is it the tax we have to pay for our earthly existence — something that everyone has to endure for a few decades before the sweet release of retirement?

Shawn Achor’s studies on happiness says that only10% of happiness is dependent on external circumstances while a whooping 90% is dependent on how our brain processes various experiences, ie its’ interpretation of reality. So is the problem work, or how we view work?

I haven’t come across these perspectives either in my B school nor in the training programs at work. In both places sadly there’s still an over emphasis on theories / information without addressing the fundamental questions / beliefs around work and how it impacts our performance.

Here are some new perspectives that I have been fortunate to learn / observe that is changing my career map:

  1. We are Designed for Work:

Prolonged rest or even reckless adventure / leisure activities lose their thrill when they become the primary focus — they are only good distractions. The most satisfaction is still found in working on something challenging, meaningful and creates an impact. We get the most long term joy by seeking out things that will cause us frustration, fear and even failure in the short run. Our brain however is programmed to avoid short term pain even at the cost of long term harm — we need to teach it to embrace short term pain.

2. Work is an Act of Service:

Most of us have a natural desire to help others. We however tend to restrict this to few acts of charity done in small ways more so due to understandable practical realities. We also want to be doing something meaningful with our lives — this is a powerful feeling that we are more aware of a times when we feel its nagging absence. Work provides a platform that helps us achieve both of these deep desires when we choose to focus on the people who are at the receiving end of our service / interaction. We make a conscious shift from focussing on our efforts and the extrinsic rewards associated with it and look at how we are / can help someone do better. In doing this we also slowly loosen the grip the external rewards have on our emotions.

3. Work Helps us Discover Ourselves:

Work when rightly approached can be seen as a regular assessment of where we stand vis a vis what’s important to us. There’s so many opportunities, feedback and ideas thrown about by various people that we won’t get elsewhere. We can use these inputs to constantly clarify what matters to us and what we need to do about it. The answers to these questions will move us towards jobs where we work on what’s important to us, keep getting better at it and makes us feel most alive.

Sometimes it’s not a shift in job that’s needed, but a shift in perspective. What’s your shift?