Wrestling Dragons: Turning a Job into Meaningful Work

South AfricaA few weeks ago, I was shopping with some friends at a mass club-type of retailer in South Africa. We were literally buying cartfuls of food for an entrepreneur’s “boot camp” I was about to lead. We pulled up with our cargo train of industrial-sized carts to check out, being some of the last shoppers for the day. I watched the other lines process their customers while the two ladies who were processing our purchase slowly moved our four carts of product onto the conveyor belt for scanning, and then handed everything back to us to put back onto our carts.

About halfway through the experience, I looked up and saw a bunch of people standing around, watching us. Now, this is Africa, and I am used to folks gathering around and staring at some of the things we do. But this was different.

Apparently, no one could clock out of work until the last customer was processed. That makes perfect sense. If I were that business owner, I would want my entire team focused on helping all of our customers before declaring the work day “done.” And yet, instead of closing their lines and coming over to help, literally EVERONE (including the managers) just stood and stared at their two teammates who were still working. Staring and chatting. Then staring. Then chatting some more.

When we were finally done and were then pushing our caravan of groceries through the parking lot, one of my teammates said something that I thought was pretty profound. “It’s a shame that so many people want jobs, but nobody wants to work.”

Now, think about that for a moment. Can you see the difference between a job and work? If you already know that difference, please forgive me while I give a short breakdown.

To me, the difference boils down to purpose. As in, what is the purpose of a job and what is the purpose of work? A job is an Industrial Age invention that is designed to assign human beings to (most often) repeatable labor. It is usually mind-numbing, but it pays the bills. No one wants to get out of bed for their daytime/swing/graveyard shift, but they will, even forcing themselves to get out of bed enough times so that they can retire from the job at some point. Shucks, they might even be able to trade jobs at some point, getting more money in exchange for staying in the soul-crushing painfully slow lifelong process. Jobs simply do not have a purpose for the individual.

Contrast this with the concept of work.

Work is as old as humanity. Work is even part of the Garden of Eden story (anybody want to be a gardener?). Work can be hard. And it can be exhilarating. Work is what we will spend hours doing after we finish our jobs. For no other reason than because it’s fun. It’s fulfilling. It’s driven by a purpose that we literally vibrate with. The purpose of the work is defined by the purpose of the individual.

I know I am playing with semantics here, but can you see the conceptual difference? Can you see how purpose transforms a job into meaningful work? Work without purpose is just a job. But work that is fueled by purpose is more than a job could ever hope to be.

Obviously, this has immediate implications on the individual. Or more specifically, on YOU.

ConfusedA recent article in Forbes (Why You Can’t Find a Job You Love), Louis Efron cited research that said as much as 95% of people are in the wrong jobs roles. That same article cited Gallup research that says 71% of people are NOT EVEN ENGAGED at work. Are you kidding me?! How do people survive? How do organizations continue to exist? This is insane. And it also means that a significant number of you reading this blog need to hear this rant message.

IF YOU are working without purpose, may I challenge you to take some time to define your personal purpose? But don’t try to make your personal purpose fit your work/job just yet.

Instead, work this problem from the opposite direction. Stop and ask yourself “Why do I exist?” (I know, I know – I just went off into la-la land for some of you, but follow me down the rabbit hole.) The answer should be more substantial than what you get paid to do. Or more specifically, the answer should be something more meaningful that what you are paid to do. Or in other words, if you were paid to do it, you would think you were robbing your boss.

If you want more tactical questions, you can ask yourself the following:

  • What gives me the greatest sense of fulfillment?
  • What accomplishments am I most proud of?
  • What situations give me energy?
  • What situations suck my energy away?
  • What are my special abilities or experiences?
  • What are my aspirations or dreams?

When you pull all of these answers together, a unified whole should begin to emerge. THIS is your personal purpose (or at least the beginning of understanding your personal purpose). This is the anchor point you need.

Side point: You do have a personal purpose. Everyone does. If you’re breathing, there’s a purpose behind it – even if it is not just about you. Sometimes, it’s especially not about you. I’m just sayin…

So why all of the philosophical gymnastics? Because without knowing your personal purpose, you will never be happy in your job. Ever. You (and your relationships) will be poisoned by the context in which you live your day-to-day life. I say this with the voice of experience. There was a time when I lost sight of my personal purpose (which is a topic for another blog). Needless to say, I found myself more “successful” than I had ever been and making more money than I had ever made in my life. And burning out at the same time. I’m talking complete and total flame-age. But that’s already too much about me. Let’s get back to talking about you.

You see, when you wrestle that dragon to the ground, when you get Dragona grip on your personal purpose in life, you transform everything. You suddenly have clarity in not what you want to do, but – most importantly – you know how to make the choices that matter most. And you have the motivation to make those choices. Which means that (without trying to sound like some hyperactive motivational speaker) YOU KNOW HOW TO TRANSFORM YOUR WORK. And your play. And your relationships. And your past. And your future.

You achieve the kind of clarity that only champions have. Because your arena is not defined by your job title or your career path or your paycheck. It’s defined by something MUCH bigger than that.

THEN you are able to use that clarity of personal purpose to transform your family, your team, your organization, your market. Who knows, you might even change random parts of the greater world around you. People who live their purpose have a way of doing that, you know.

Just start small – and see where it takes you.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Published by timohai

Father, widower, leader, sales enablement pro

6 thoughts on “Wrestling Dragons: Turning a Job into Meaningful Work

  1. Brilliant post Tim! Aligning what we do–both in our work and personal lives creates so much clarity, freedom, and energy. It drives greater levels of success and starts putting us in control of our own destinies.

    Thanks for this inspirational post! Regards, Dave

  2. Tim, this is one of, if not the most, crucial issue in sales management.

    My most recent sales manager workshop addressed this issue from another angle…. the true measure of great coaching and great management is what happens when you (the sales manager) aren’t there (with the SR).

    These sales managers are required to spend 60 – 70% of their time on the road with their SRs and with some loose maths we calculated that somewhere between 7 of 8 to 9 of 10 sales calls are done by SRs without the manager present (where some coaching occurs).

    The workshop dealt with firstly creating the importance of this awareness, and secondly, what kind of management and coaching strikes at the very core of enabling/ facilitating this high level of SR engagement/ purpose.

    The sales managers concluded that they needed to treat their SRs as valued humans before they treated them as valued employees…. connect each SR’s purpose with their job. Not the other way around.

    1. Thanks, Mark. I think you absolutely nailed it with that final statement (“… connect each SR’s purpose with their job. Not the other way around.”).

      It’s amazing to me how many leaders miss this opportunity. One of the best leaders I have know actually invites new members to the team into his office so that one of his first conversations with them can be about purpose. He asks, “What do you love to do? What the things that give you the greatest results AND the greatest pleasure getting those results?” He then listens and tries to figure out out to anchor that person’s job against their answers. The outcome is that not only does he get GREAT sales results, but he also has an almost zero rate of unplanned turnover (people quitting without warning).

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