As a country we are living in a season of discontent. We have seen employees from a wide variety of sectors choosing to take strike action. The shared feeling that these employees are expressing is the lack of choice, or perhaps power to change a situation. They declare with their behaviour their perspective, that in order for their needs to be addressed, to be heard, or perhaps taken seriously, the only option is to withdraw labour. They strike for a change in their terms and conditions, for more money and better benefits. At a deeper level, it could be suggested that they choose to strike because they care about the work that they do and want to resist the reduction to standards. The loss of best practice. The downward slide in standards that put lives in jeopardy – and so at the root of their strike action is an expression of love and care for the work they do, the people they work with.
For many people work is just something you do to pay the bills. To be able to say “I love my job” is a rare position that few find themselves in, and when they do, the wise ones recognise that it is a privileged position.
We all think we know what love means – especially on Valentine’s Day when the smell of red roses and chocolates fill the air. Romantic love is often compressed in our minds into what I now describe as “movie love” or more specifically “romcom love” where things always end well or amuse. Pain, struggle, and difficulty are overlooked or diluted. In this context, in relation to work and for this paper, I am defining love more technically using the Cambridge dictionary for reference. It states - Love as “an intense feeling of deep affection” which I would suggest is connected to the parallel emotion of passion, “a strong and barely controlled emotion”.
So what does it mean to love your job? Your work? Your role? Jonathan Zacks, former chief rabbi in the UK, stated in his book ’The Dignity of Difference’:
…work is more than mere labour. Biblical Hebrew has two words to express the difference. Melachah is work as creation, and avodah is work as service or servitude. Melachah is the arena in which we transform the world and thus become, in the striking rabbinic phrase “partners with God in the work of creation”. God deliberately left the world unfinished so that it could be completed by the work of human beings.
Whether you are a person of faith or not – I think this quote captures something about the importance and the place of work in our lives, especially if there is a vocational element to the role, that is related to the difference you can make in someone’s life. Michelle Obama endorses this view as she states “Success isn’t [only] about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” I would hypothesise that for medical and educational professionals, and a few others in a range of sectors, this is why they do the work they do.
For those of us who work at the Institute, a core value (as our Articles of Association state) - our raison d’etre - in layman terms – is the improvement of society, through our work with individuals and groups. Our goals is to help those we work with have a better experience at work, to understand the system that they are part of and recognise that all members of staff influence the environment that they are part of – whether in an active or a passive way.
Of course, money is important to us all – as is clearly demonstrated through the challenges presented by the current “cost of living crisis”. Salaries - or income - can be experienced as a recognition of status, or as an expression of value. Maya Angelou states in her Collected Poems:
You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.
The reason I believe Maya Angelou’s words are important is because she recognises that the unconscious way by which we take up our roles – or as we might say at the Institute, how we think about our primary task - influences the outcomes.
There is one aspect of our work that comes to mind when I think about the difference we make to our clients and communities. It is one aspect of the work that I love and believe is hugely valuable, and that is the work that we do with young, new, and emerging leaders. In this context “new” can mean more than one thing, for example, new to the world of work, new to the role, new to the sector. New spaces can generate turbulent feelings in us. Feelings of hope, or fear, excitement or intimidation. The hope is that all these feelings will turn into love.
Gloria Steinem, famous for her work as a journalist and as a socio-political activist states:
Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.
In order to try new things or do something that has never been done before, requires taking a risk. It is in taking these risks that we find our rewards, which may sound a bit trite – but is however true. Finding and believing in love is a courageous act – whether it is with a person or in a role. It is a relationship that has to be developed and protected, and when you’ve found it…joyful.
My question then to you is “Do you love your work?” Is it a question that is easy for you to answer? If it is an easy yes – congratulations! If it is an uneasy no, then speak to us. I am confident we can help.
Principal Consultant and Director of the Coaching for Leadership and Supervision Programmes