Ever since I can remember I've been fascinated with what people do for a living and, especially, why they do it. I have a vivid memory of going to my Dad's office at the local government when I was a kid. I remember the greyness of it but most of all I remember his office was very dull and totally silent except for a loud ticking clock on the wall. As I waited for him to finish a report I was struck by how utterly boring it seemed and I wondered, out loud, how he could possibly endure this form of drawn-out tic-toc torture. I also wondered out loud why didn't he do a cool job, like the ones I had planned for myself as a racing driver or a stunt man? Surely that would make him happier, right? Needless to say, I didn't follow him into accounting, nor did he ever offer to take me to his office again for that matter. It may not have been exciting in the eyes of a 9 year-old little Ross but fast-forward many years to today, and having a son of my own, I can now understand better why he went to that uninspiring 60s office building every day and how it enabled the wonderful family life that I was lucky enough to grow up with.
In my research and consulting practice in meaning at work, I've discovered the building blocks of meaningful work and I’ve developed a model for meaningful work around them called “Bubbles of Meaning”. These seven bubbles just happen to be all of the things Dad's "boring" job had in abundance.
Dad was really good at being an accountant which gave him a sense of achievement. He had a head for numbers and he loved making them dance around ledgers and balance sheets so he was working authentically to his interests and strengths. He was also a really nice guy and he made lasting friendships with his colleagues which satisfied his connections bubble. When he went to work, he didn't care that the building wasn't beautiful because when he went inside he felt like he could be himself with a deep sense of belonging. He was respected and recognised for his work which expanded his self-esteem bubble. Dad also had a clear purpose and the work he did directly made an impact to the community by helping to get schools, playgrounds and other important services financed.
His workplace may seem like a far cry from the excitement of the pit-lane at Monaco or the set of a James Bond movie but work was meaningful for my Dad. So much so that it kept him satisfied for over 40 years. Of course, as in any relationship, I’m sure there were moments when he was tempted by the glamour of something more sexy but Dad knew what work meant to him and he stayed faithful to himself. The very stable pay-check and working hours that allowed him to spend lots of time with his family were certainly important drivers but it was the felt sense of work meaning something worthwhile that sustained him for all those years.
The thrill of racing around a circuit at 200mph or jumping over 100 flaming buses on a motorbike might sound, objectively, like a lot of fun to some people - especially for 9 year old kids - but it turns out Dad was onto something all along. Finding a job that is, subjectively, meaningful to you is the real key to long-term happiness and satisfaction at work. Of course, I hope my son finds his own path that means most to him when he is old enough to work, but I also secretly hope that his path at least swings past the F1 circuit along the way.
Author: Ross Reekie
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