Workism or Purpose At Work?
Last week I featured a clip of CBS Good Morning about workism in our compilation paper, Connecting With Purpose. As I listened to Derek Thompson succinctly present the case of workism, which he defines as the way work has morphed into a religious identity—promising transcendence and community but failing to deliver, I nodded my head enthusiastically as he shared the symptoms of workism. I recall thinking, “yes, Derek, I am tracking with you!” …Until the conclusion that the intersection of purpose and work translates to seeking the meaning of life from work, which makes the seeker miserable because work is not designed for that and the purpose and work story seems to end there. That’s where Derek and I differ because I know of an additional chapter in the story of purpose and work that is unfolding and it’s a game changer.
Over a decade ago, I became impassioned about the intersection of spirituality and work. At that time the question that sparked me was, “how can I bring my full self to what I do?” I felt exhausted from the ways I compartmentalized my life and believed I had to seek different fulfilling experiences from multiple sources that I felt were easier to unleash my authentic self. I read and studied and tried to make this a mental exercise but it was a soul question and exercise and it took years to figure that out.
I was gifted with the opportunity to work at a consultancy that embraced that exploration in its culture! Talk about manifestation. My employer was a Spirit At Work award recipient and community member allowing me access to living models of intentional practice or being with big questions in an organizational context.
In 2009 like so many workers, I was laid-off.
My bounce back from this lay-off was really difficult not just because of the strains in our economy but because of the importance I placed on this job. I think I developed a slight case of workism in this place of noble pursuit. My case of workism was not about working crazy hours to make meaning of my life but rather how so much of my identity was locked into the work environment that allowed me to explore my big question.
After a challenging couple of years, I realized that purpose, which I define as the fullest expression of who I am (spiritual, savvy, experience, passions, goals) and the authentic service that comes from that knowledge, comes from within me as an ongoing exploration. Whether I am working or not, whether my doing is compensated or volunteered or how I am with my family and community, it all comes from my home center, my knowing who I am and the value I bring that delivers different outcomes in different environments.
When we unlock ourselves, we take ourselves everywhere we go including the workplace.
My lay-off was a gift, a catalyst that allowed me to amplify what I learned. I realize the job that I loved was really my cocoon for transformative growth and post-layoff was time for me to learn my wings and fly. I learned that when I unlock purpose I take that knowing everywhere I go, including the work that I do. It may seem like a slight distinction but the order is everything.
The press that I felt beginning in the early 2000s was the beginning of my awareness of The Purpose Economy, where consumers are purchasing not solely based on the widgets made or products and services provided but on a company’s ability to answer its big question, who it is in its fullest expression. What is its fully intended impact? Like my personal experience of awakening, many organizations are compartmentalized and the shift is moving to an integrated existence. Many organizations are moving from a model of this is what we do, this is how it relates to community and multiple sets of stakeholders to this is what we do, this is why we do it and this is how we integrate what we do with why we do it for a continuum of results that matter.
The next chapter of extracting more meaning in life is not trying to wring it from our employment by doing more but rather by bringing our full selves and the expanding knowledge of the value we bring to the organizations we partner with for results that matter. I agree with Derek insomuch as the order matters. Work is not doling out purpose but it can be designed as a purpose-friendly facilitator with measurements including employee-fulfillment and the impact of purpose enrollment between individual, organizational, consumer & community stakeholders towards results that matter.
In this new paradigm, people are leveraging what they know about purpose and gaining fulfillment through intentional doing with purpose clarity. Through this lens, work is a purpose partner and as we shift our jobs, we shift purpose partners. Employers partner with employees in the way it provides opportunities for relationships, impact, and growth, which are the pillars for fulfillment in what its employees do. This is critical as some say we are in a growing Gig Economy.
The next chapter of purpose and work that we are all coauthoring contains external pushes from shifts in our economic environment as well as internal pulls from what many people are experiencing in pursuit of fulfilling and meaningful living. Organizations reside between the economic environment change and the personal internal transformations of its employees. Choosing to be market and employee responsive are good strategic choices for the organization, which are systems of people, and yet the demand is coming from the people in support of what is transpiring within the people.
Dena Wiggins is a Transformational Author, MBA Resultant, and Certified Purpose Coach. She takes an unwavering stand for your purpose. Dena unlocks purpose in sparked Purpose Peeps who transform businesses and organizations into lighthouses that shine solutions that transform our world. Stay connected, join the conversation, take inspired action.