In my consulting practice, I have observed that much creative and productive energy is being wasted in organizations all across the country because workers find themselves in jobs that don’t “feed” them in significant ways. One of the reasons is that all too often, students leave college with degrees that have prepared them for careers that they will never enjoy, even from the first day. The more I work with students, the more strongly I believe that by aggressively preparing them for a career they are likely to enjoy, we can help solve the “energy crisis” that exists in organizations, and perhaps solve some of our societal problems in the process.
Enjoyment is not something we’ve come to expect from work, which strikes me as rather strange. However, I believe that it’s something we have every reason to expect, especially if we play our cards right. It’s never too early to begin talking to our children about finding a fulfilling career (and I stress fulfilling), and I strongly believe that learning institutions can play a critical role in helping students find it. In our society, we place so much weight on status and compensation that joy and fulfillment often take a back seat.
The connection between job fulfillment and energy is simple: We are going to be a whole lot more energetic in pursuit of our total lives if we aren’t spending all of our energy trying to “survive” at work. Work life often saps so much of our vital energy that we don’t have anything left for the rest of our lives.
If we have something left after work, many of us are likely to devote some of it to being better citizens. We will have more energy to take care of our children, be involved in their schooling, and volunteer to get involved in other worthy causes. It’s a shame when we spend so much energy making a living that we don’t have enough left to make a life. If this trend continues, I hate to think about what our society might look like a few years…or a few decades…from now. I believe the biggest price is, and will continue to be paid by our children, and I find that very troubling.
Thinking back to my childhood, my parents both worked at hard jobs, but they were never too tired to deal with their five children. Both of them performed hard manual labor. As a result, they were physically tired, but because they weren’t working in situations that were sapping their creative and productive energy, they had a lot left for the five of us. Today, in the era of the knowledge worker, we are being sapped psychically. We have to think and reason, we must meet many job-related challenges, and often, we must cope with significant interpersonal and inter-group conflict. All of these, singularly and in combination, exact a heavy toll on our minds, and eventually, our bodies.
I believe that if we are energetic and passionate about our work, and fulfilled in its doing, all other things related to making a living will take care of themselves. To be successful, the process of education must effectively prepare students for prosperous and fulfilling work. Our learning institutions can be tremendously influential in empowering students to make informed choices about their careers. If we are successful at pulling this off, students can reap the benefits throughout their working lives…and beyond…and our society as a whole will be positively impacted.