The Meaning of Work [Part 2]

I was recently introduced to a great podcast app called the Overcast.fm which you can download in your preferred app store.

While I was browsing through the plethora of playlists, I searched for my favourite podcast show, TED Radio Hour from NPR, and quickly subscribed to the podcast.

Having listened to Guy Raz for most of my years at university I was pleasantly surprised to hear his voice once again, albeit 3 years later.

While scrolling through the playlist, a podcast that immediately caught my attention was aptly titled: The Meaning of Work. I downloaded it and set my alarm for the following morning. Armed with a different soundtrack to listen to, I was ready to tackle that mundane drive to work.

Eager to start the day, I got into my car the following morning ten minutes earlier than usual (knowing that those extra ten minutes would afford me more listening time later in the morning before the grind officially started.)

Having toyed with this question for quite some time; ‘The Meaning of Work,’ has changed a lot for me personally over the past 3 years, but has more recently played a more significant role in my life in the last 6 months.

“Those talks, those ideas, adapted for radio from NPR. I’m Guy Raz.” The all to familiar and nostalgic opening line from the man himself, Guy Raz.

The show opened up with an absorbing and all true saying that went along the lines of this:

“Some of us hate it, some of us love it, but most of us have no choice. We have to work.”

Guy then introduced us to Margaret Heffernan, who writes about work for a living and who shared her views on how The Professional Pecking Order is Doing More Harm Than Good.

She started off by telling listeners a story about an experiement conducted by William York, and his pursuit to find out what could make groups more productive. To perform the experiement, he studied chickens to gain insight and answers around what triggered productivity.

To run his experiment, York split the flock of chickens into two groups.

The first group he called ‘Super Chickens’. These chickens were specially chosen and were individually brilliant producing lots of eggs, on a regular basis (think the Steve Jobs, Bill Gates of the world). The second group he called ‘Average Worker Chickens.’ These chickens weren’t as productive as the Super Chickens, but still produced eggs.

After letting the chickens do their thing (produce eggs, duh) for 6 generations he then compared the two flocks.

He first looked at the flock of Average Worker Chickens and compared it to the flock of Super Chickens. And then compared how many eggs each flock had laid. And to his amazement, and to mine, the flock of Average Worker Chickens who all looked very plump, fully feathered and more importantly were more productive than ever.

While the second flock of Super Chickens all but three were dead. The rest had pecked each other to death [Eyes Wide Open Emoji].

So how does this experiment relate to the meaning of work?

Margaret Heffernan went on to tell us about how she was brought up to believe that the only way she had to get ahead was to compete. Get into the right school, get into the right job, get to the top.

This rang true for me in many ways.

For most of my life I had been competing. Competing for sports awards, competing at University, competing for attention, affirmation and rewards.

I paused the podcast and sat in the parking lot, letting this concept mull over me for a little while.

With the voice in my head struggling to speak up, I quietly asked myself was this my why? Was this part of the reason why I felt so emotionally and physically drained in my previous job?

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