Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
‘“When Borgenicht came home at night to his children, he may have been tired, but he was his own boss. He was responsible for his own decisions and direction. His work was complex; it engaged his mind and imagination. And, the longer he and Regina stayed up at night sewing aprons, the more money they made the next day on the streets.”
In this day and age, work is about more than just making money. We seek purpose. We want meaning and we know that with a lack of these things, something just doesn’t feel right.
I picked up a book named ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell at a second hand book sale in Beijing last year, not knowing that it would give me the insight and introspect to leave my dead-end job. The author walks through 3 aspects of fulfilment I’ve asked myself over the last year which have helped me determine ‘meaningful work’.
You don’t need to be a business owner, CEO or have founded your own NGO to find work that is meaningful. You just need to ask yourself this:
1) Does your work give you autonomy?
This concerns the ability to make your own choices and it will depend on what your priorities are. Autonomy to some might mean the ability to work flexibly, to determine what time you start and from where you open your laptop. To others it might relate to independence within the role, the ability to make decisions and prioritize what you feel needs to be done.
Does the environment trust your skills, value your knowledge and depend on your experience? Micro-managers can be villains in the world of autonomy.
- start a side project in your role or outside of work based on your passions/interests
- negotiate flexible working hours or location within your job
- build trust by taking on more responsibility
2) Does your work give you complexity?
This relates to the feeling of growth and improvement. Work that is complex meets our intellectual understanding. It needs to be challenging enough to make us grow. It offers a feeling of satisfaction when we have achieved it. It allows us to use our imagination and creativity. Whether through gaining a client, creating a strategy, reaching a goal, or mastering a skill! You feel in control and able to face the challenges in a healthy way.
Do you already know the work like the back of your hand? Do you feel stuck or stagnated? Is there enough to keep your mind engaged, focused and invigorated?
- Write out your daily goals or tasks to complete, ticking them off is very satisfying!
- Understanding your weaknesses and find ways to challenge them
- Look at existing processes in your work and find ways of improving them
3) Does your work have a direct connection between effort and reward?
The book uses the example of a farmer, the more hours he put into his land, the better yield of crops he had for that season. But this can be applied to any field of work. We like to know that our time and energy is going somewhere and that at the end of the day, we will feel rewarded for it. This might be monetary but it could also be spiritual or theoretical. Teaching a skill and seeing your student progress. The crop yield could be your happy customers or how far your writing reaches. The feeling of reward is based on what you value as a person.
What is your feeling of reward? How much effort do you put in? Is the reward tangible or is it a feeling? When was the last time you felt this? Have you ever felt it?
- Track your effort/reward in a way that you can see it
- Seek feedback from those around you-
- Instigate your own project work
I hope reflecting on these 3 questions will help you as much as they helped me. Whether in your current job or when looking for a new one. It’s easy to fall into a cycle of meaningless work if we don’t stop to think and assess what that actually is and what it means to us.
If your work hits this triad, you’ve got it! Keep it! Work at it! Share it!
If your work falls short in one area– is there a way you can strengthen it?
If your work doesn’t hit any of the factors and you have ‘that’ feeling I’m talking about, you now know what you do and don’t find meaning in.
Be brave, live by it. We spend most of our lives working and this sacred life is so short.
It deserves meaning and so do you.
Is your work meaningful?
What do you do?
What does ‘meaningful work’ mean to you?