Saturday, August 29, 2009

The meaning of work

This post was first written in September 2009, when I was struggling with my role and still suffering from a toxic workplace. I began to question whether I could be happy workign for a `boss', rather than being self-employed, and I began to ask myself what it was that would keep me interested in working.

This week it has been Brisbane again. I arrived on Saturday to a temperature of 29 deg, with 30 on the Sunday and 35 on the Monday. Brisbane at it's late winter best (or so a southerner would think). The locals were not appreciative of it, though. Grumbling that it was way too hot for winter. I was dreading working in a Fabrication workshop for the week, thinking that I would be sweaty and hot all week in the mandatory High Vis long trousers and long sleeved shirt, but I found the workshops modern with high ceilings and good ventilation, so that the heat was negligible and with air conditioned offices to retreat to, the work was pleasant. I'm working my way through lots of emotional changes at the moment. This project has asked a lot of me, taking me away from my usual work and placing me in the role of assessor again. The role of assessor is one I thought I'd left behind some years ago. It's a role that requres a specific focus and energy directed into the decision making process and the report writing that records the decision. Report writing is in itself an art. One of my co-assessors has posted one on the internet tonight that leaves me feeling inadequate! The assessment project we are working on has also required a lot of travelling back and forth to Qld. Sounds very sexy, flying all around the countryside , but when it requires not only the flying but also shifting in and out of different roles, it becomes fairly draining. So work is challenging, yet at the same time the last few months have given me the opportunity to re-assess the way in which I approach my work and what things about my work I find inspiring, and the things that are not. It can be hard to re-connect with work at times. I read an interesting book called `The Story of Success' by an American psychologist. He researched and brought together a lot of the theories about success, looking at a persons birth timing (historical relevance), the 10,000 hours of practice it takes to be an expert (research), the influence of race & culture, and the need to find meaning in work. The thing that he discussed that really made an impact on my current thinking was the discussion on the need to have meaningful work. I've been trying to re-discover my connexion to the meaningfulness of work since I burnt out in the late 90's, and I think it is slowly coming back. My first trade gave me a lot of meaningfulness which still guides me in a daily manner. Horticulture is the most constantly absorbing work and observation one can have. Engaging in plant culture in the garden and observing plants through the changing seasons is one of my greatest pleasures. I moved from working as a horticulturalist into teaching others about horticulture and in the early years felt that I was in heaven as the opportunity to continue my own professional development in the field of horticulture was enhanced by the use of my creative abilities in designing and delivering teaching materials. Time and `the system' took their toll and I lost my path. I developed expertise in areas that were well regarded and of value to organisations, yet returned little to me in either creativity or a sense of holistic purpose.
One of the things that is really necessary in finding meaning in work, is the ability to have `professional' discussions with like minded people. Being able to catch up with a peer or colleague and discuss theory, new information, research and experience is critical to my sense of worthwhile work. If I am toiling away on my own, without stopping to check in with another professional, I lose momentum and become disengaged. Workplaces that discourage professional discussion, open argument and an atmosphere of professional inquiry become stale and stifling to the committed professional. I value very highly the opportunity to engage in professional networking, seeking new information, confirming personal analysis and learning new techniques or methodologies.
The opportunity to continue learning, either in a formal or an informal sense is critical to me in enabling me to maintain motivation and passion for work. The other big intrinsic motivation about work, for me is knowing that I am making a difference to someone. It can be a client or a co-worker, it doesn't matter who. I get the biggest kick out of resolving someone elses problem. Give me a problem to solve and a person waiting for the solution to that problem and you will put me onto the path to feeling very happy about my work! I get an even bigger kick when the person I've helped shows how pleased they are with the result!
The other thing that is critical to my happiness at work, is the opportunity to be a little creative. Creativity is a funny thing, it might be artistic creativity, but often it comes out in a subversive manner, such as absconding with a colleague for a coffee, sticking silly notes on the photo-copier, organising social events, working with teams to progress difficult projects.

So all the heart ache about work last year forced me to recognise what I value in a job and to make sure I get it!



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