Authentic at work II: We are what we do

Post in: German

We influence our work, clearly. But our work also influences us.  How often do we talk about this fact?  How often do we talk about the question, “What kind of a person will this job turn me into?”  When we counsel young people about their career futures, do we focus on this aspect?

What kind of a person do you want to be?  If you have not yet decided for a line of work, which occupation will bring you closest to your ideal personality development?  If you are already working, Does the work you do bring you closer, or further, to your ideal internal life?

I said “internal life” on purpose. Often students choose a line of work because of the external life it can offer: what is the pay level, what will that be able to buy? What is the probability of travel, of relocation, of working in exotic locations, or of being able to stay near the family? What are the chances of job security, of perspective for climbing the career ladder?

But how often do we think about the “internal life” that a job will encourage in us? Will we become more thoughtful or more decisive through the work we do? Will we learn to listen, or learn to talk, or both? Will we learn self-confidence or self-questioning? Will we develop our favorite skills (in math, writing, problem-solving) or work outside of our comfort zone constantly? Will we satisfy a deep desire to help people, or are we likely to become increasingly annoyed with other people?  Will we use our muscles or our minds, or both? Will we feel healthy at the end of the day, or rather used up, discouraged, and ill?

What does it mean to be authentic at work?  Who is the authentic work self?  One of my answers would be, “what’s called for from me in my job is in line with the kind of person I want to be.”

One reason the work we do is so important is that it’s one of the primary ways we leave a mark on the world. Even if what we do seems like bean-counting, or rolling the same stone up the same hill, what we do has relevance for an organization, for the people we work with, or for the customers or clients.  Do we see it? Or do we just draw a paycheck?

One reason the discussion of a minimum salary for everyone is so interesting is that it invites the thought experiment: if no one HAD to work, what would all of us wish to do?  What kind of society would we live in, if everyone was pursuing a passion rather than survival?

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