Work – the very word sounds like drudgery to many of us. “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go” says the bumper sticker. The coffee mug claims that “My Next Job Will Be Normal.” Someone asks you to go to something “fun.” Your answer: “I can’t. I have to WORK that day!”
I’d like to suggest that there are three basic levels of work that you or your employees may be experiencing. Understanding these three can go a long way towards taking action to pull the bumper sticker off your car and getting a new mug.
Here they are:
Job – You go in, do what you are told, and go home. The best parts of the day: Lunch, Payday and Leaving. Your position requires you to focus your attention on things that hold no interest to you, perform tasks that seem meaningless and acquire skills in areas (based on repetition, mostly) that don’t energize you at all.
Occupation – OK, this is a tad better, but not much. Your interests, satisfiers and preferred skills are mostly untapped, but occasionally you get to do something that seems worthwhile. You are OCCUPIED, if only for a short time. Maybe in an 8 hour day you get 15 minutes of the “juices flowing.” And, since this is more what you SHOULD be doing, you try to make that precious quarter hour last as long as possible. Still, most of your time is spent doing what I like to call “an unnatural act.”
Research consistently notes that most of us are in either Jobs or Occupations. The good news is that there is one more level:
Career – This is the vocational Sweet Spot. Your position says you must focus on areas that actually INTEREST you. Much of what you do during the day feels like SOMETHING, as you find personal satisfaction in many of your tasks. And, happily, the majority of the skills you are developing actually ENERGIZE you. I have noticed that when I use my BEST SKILLS I don’t get tired, I get energized.
Let’s be honest, however. Virtually every position, even the PERFECT one (if it indeed exists), will likely require you to do things that you would prefer to skip. I call this “The Grown-up Stuff.” Do it because you have to. Do it because I told you to. It’s in your position description. It’s OK. Some of this builds character. BUT IF MOST OF WHAT YOU DO IS EITHER A JOB OR OCCUPATION, EVERYONE IS COMING UP SHORT!
When I was young and foolish (as opposed to now, when I am significantly older and hopefully somewhat less foolish), I thought a Career was a high profile, 9-5, corner office, etc. position. I have since met forklift operators in Careers and trial attorneys in Jobs or Occupations.
It’s the fit. Seek opportunities in your position, your organization, your industry, etc. that allow you to tap into your BEST STUFF. My favorite way of describing this comes from Marsha Sinetar in To Build The Life You Want, Create the Work You Love: “Work as gift of self.” I wish I had said that! Wait! I JUST DID!