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Meaningful Work: Change Your Attitude or Change Your Job

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By Jay Barnett, Founder and CTO
With Tom Brennan, Senior Writer

The Power in Achieving Meaningful Work

That title makes a strong statement, but there’s truth in it. Maybe you’ve heard a version of this story:

A man sees two guys with pickaxes, chipping away at rocks, with a structure taking shape behind them. Both are sweaty and dirty, but one is beaming and the other scowling. The man asks the Scowler, “What are you doing?” “Can’t you see?” snaps Scowler. “I’m breaking up these lousy rocks!” When asked the same question, Beamer smiles and says, “I’m building a cathedral.”

The difference between a job and an opportunity is the difference between what you have to do and what you get to do. Try this short exercise: on one side of a piece of paper list what you have to do in your job, and on the other side list what you get to do. If the get to do list is much shorter than the have to do list, you owe it to yourself to consider changing your attitude or changing your job.

Is an employment epiphany an “empiphany”?

This question of meaning was pivotal in the birth of Decision Toolbox (DT) over 20 years ago. I had been running a successful IT headhunting firm, but I felt the model was empty and unsatisfying. I attended a seminar where the presenter asked, “What will the world look like after you’ve made your impact?” That question helped me crystalize the vision from which DT was founded: Companies have the people they want and people love their work. 

This principle isn’t radical in its content, but it’s radical in actual practice only because there are so many employers and employees who CAN’T say, “That’s true for me.” As a result, the last 20+ years have been an impassioned pursuit of the core belief that every job is the ideal opportunity for someone. 

Inspiration = meaning in action

As employees, we all need a higher purpose, something that gives our work meaning. By focusing on that meaning, we achieve inspiration — inspiration is meaning in action. I know I’m not telling you anything new, but how many of us experience this as much of the time as we would like to?

It doesn’t matter what your company does. Some are inspired by working for an organization pursuing green alternatives, others by contributing to homeland security. Some are excited to be part of the market-leading team and others to be part of the team challenging the market leader. Maybe your inspiration comes from the fact that dozens in your company depend on you, or from customers whose lives you touch.

Inspired hiring, inspired leadership

Inspiration is intensely personal, and each individual is responsible for finding their own meaning and motivation. But as employers we can encourage that. Think about it: if you have an opening, would you rather hire someone who has every qualification listed, but is only tepid in the motivation category, or someone who lacks some part of the qualifications, but is inspired to make an impact?

If you are a hiring manager with an opening, think about two things:

  1. What inspires you in your role? How can you share that with potential candidates? You’ll need to be inspired in order to attract people who are inspired.
  2. Who is your target candidate and what is likely to be meaningful to them (it may not be the same as what is meaningful to you)? How can you communicate that in your interactions with candidates? 

Start with what’s meaningful

At DT our process begins by working with hiring managers to help them clarify their answers to those questions. A value-add is that hiring managers often find renewed inspiration in their own role. Again, we’ve all heard it a hundred times, but it’s easy to forget.

I’ll leave you with a challenge: in the comments section below, post three to five things that inspire you in your current position. If you can’t think of at least three, refer to the title . . .

Keep an eye out for more on meaningfulness and inspiration from other members of DT’s leadership team.

Find Your Sense of Purpose, Love Your Work
Don’t Dream of a Meaningful Job….Demand It
Understanding What is Meaningful:  Life as a Spreadsheet
Meaningfulness at Work:  A Personal Journey

Connect with Jay on LinkedIn.

To learn more about Decision Toolbox, please contact us – we’d love to hear from you!

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Inside the Box will share the secrets of life long happiness….not really, but we will provide you with some great talent acquisition articles and tips that will hopefully make your working life better. You’ll also get the inside scoop on DT.

7 Responses to “Meaningful Work: Change Your Attitude or Change Your Job”

  1. April 07, 2014 at 9:30 am, Tracey Hawkins said:

    1) Building a true partnership with my hiring managers …. having touchpoints throughout my relationship with them that enables me to understand what their perfect candidate is like .. and then finding that person and hearing about the impact it made on that hiring manager’s life and the organization.
    2) Making a genuine difference in a candidate’s life. Normally, about once a year, a candidate shares with me the impact I made on their life by finding them a position to the point that it will bring me to tears (ie: placing a unemployed construction manager who was later diagnosed with throat cancer … he beat it and shared that had I not placed him, his family would be in financial ruin because he wouldn’t have had insurance).
    3) The fact that I can do this all from my home office. Enabling me to focus on the most important and MOST inspirational things in my life … my family.


    • April 08, 2014 at 7:52 pm, Kelly Graham said:

      Very inspirational, Tracey! Thanks for sharing with us!


  2. April 08, 2014 at 2:54 pm, Jordan Silver said:

    1) Helping customers improve their businesses faster and in an easier to understand way.

    2) Making sales representatives lives’ better by completing their orders as soon as I possibly can.

    3) Being able to truly make a noticeable dent in such a large corporation by going the extra mile.


    • April 08, 2014 at 7:51 pm, Kelly Graham said:

      Congrats, Jordan! You have found meaning in your work, and it sounds like the kind of meaning that makes a difference in people’s lives. Can’t get much better than that! Thanks for weighing in.


  3. April 14, 2014 at 8:01 pm, Don't Dream of a Meaningful Job -- Demand It | DecisionToolbox said:

    […] Part 2 in our Meaningful Work Series.  See Part 1 here […]


  4. June 03, 2014 at 11:44 am, Dennis Edwards said:

    1. Writing music that is beyond my playing capabilities and barely mastering it one day before the first performance date.

    2. Engaging a live audience who is eager to have some fun and feel some excitement.

    3. Battling the demons of live performance anxiety, stage fright and presentation terror…and using that terror to fuel a more inspired and vital performance.

    4. Hearing the applause, seeing the faces and feeling the genuine reactions of audiences who spontaneously respond to my performance.

    5. Meeting and talking with audience members who were willing to wait in line after the performance in order to tell me how the performance motivated them.

    6. Receiving criticism and insults from other pianists who are disgusted with my musical approach, my pianistic technique and my performance energy.

    7. Meeting, knowing and learning from pianists who play far better than I.

    8. Meeting, knowing and teaching pianists who want to learn the secrets of inspired musical performance.

    9. Listening to and stealing from musicians and composers who break my heart and set my soul on fire.

    10. Listening to live performances of truly great musicians playing truly great music written by truly great composers.


    • June 03, 2014 at 1:13 pm, Kelly Graham said:

      Inspiring list, Dennis! Thanks so much for sharing.


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