Let’s come alive

Making work more meaningful

What gets you up in the morning? Are you excited to go to work?

Most people would say ‘no.’
50% of Americans lack a sense of purpose at work.

Money might make the world go round, but meaning is what makes it come alive.

The philosopher Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who come alive.”

How do you make people come alive?
Danny Meyer, a restauranteur famous for combining the best of fine dining with accessibility wrote, “Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”

Some of us like to compartamentalise.
Work / Life.
But things aren’t so simple. People are people.
They are complex, nuanced, layered.
They have hopes, fears, dreams, insecurities, passions.
The best businesses start with people as people.

Human systems are incredibly fragile. It’s much easier to destruct than to build trust. A visit to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin last month reminded me how quickly infrastructures can unravel.

We often work in conditions of extreme anxiety and stress, conditions where we might not be our best selves.

John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods, in Conscious Capitalism encourages us to, “picture a business built on love and care rather than stress and fear.”

We need to create the conditions that allow people to be their best selves, that allow them to come alive. And I believe that starts with love.

Doing business with love
My outlook on work is shaped by the theory of culture but rooted in the practice of business. I always start where the emotion feels the strongest — by the people and places who have inspired me.

Think of people as volunteers
Danny Meyer is someone I’d love to collaborate with. He views all of his employees as volunteers — everyone from the floor to the c-suite (Nancy Lublin, CEO of Do Something echoes similar thoughts in Zilch). Everyone needs a roof over their head, but if you take money out of the equation what’s left? Ideas and ideals. You need to create a business built on purpose and passion, not just profit — a reason for people to get up in the morning and show up every day.

Do things on their time
To date, one of my best jobs was working the floor of Pitaya, an independently owned young woman’s boutique, during undergrad. My old boss Rachel is an amazing human being — generous, empathetic, understanding. There was never a vacation I couldn’t take, a paper I couldn’t get extra time to work on. When I got the opportunity to do an internship at the Recording Academy, Rachel let me re-organise my schedule. Even though I was just a retail associate earning about $10 an hour, I loved going to work every week.

Help people find themselves
It’s been over four years since I started at Wolff Olins, and every time I think about quitting, they help me do what I want — whether it’s transfer to London, work full-time on Kitchen, get a travel grant to Nigeria. Beyond the more obvious milestones, the fundamental reason I’ve stayed for so long is I’ve been surrounded by people who really believe in me, people who have helped me be my best self, even when it’s really hard. In the past, I might be defined as your stereotypical Asian girl — diligent and thoughtful, but quiet and passive. When I first started in the New York office, I was terrified of presenting and expressing my opinions in meetings. Being around people like Robert Jones, Richard Houston, Ije Nwokorie, Angie Riley, Amaris Singer, Karl Heiselman, Mary Ellen Muckerman, Jacob Cohen, Melissa Scott, Malcolm Buick, Nick O’Flaherty and so many others gave me the confidence to find my voice. It’s still a work-in-progress, but I’ve moved mountains since I started.

I share these stories with the hope that work won’t have to suck so much, so that when the alarm goes off, people will wake up with joy and excitement. It won’t happen all days, but let’s make it happen for most of them.

Melissa Andrada (@melissaandrada) heads up Kitchen from Wolff Olins, a school for ambitious leaders who want to build businesses that change the world