Adding Meaning to Our Work

by Diane Vaccaro

Adding Meaning to Our Work

Written by Diane Vaccaro

I listened to a great podcast recently: “The Meaning of Work” by the TED radio hour (you can listen to it here). It features 3 different TED speakers and includes some of their TED talks and interviews with them. One part that stood out to me, among many, was one speaker’s statement that we are motivated by the fight/challenge, as well as the desire, to reach a goal.

We really do love a story of overcoming a challenge don’t we? Knowing that there was a hard road to get to the finish line is inspiring. I have run a local half marathon for the past two consecutive years and I seem to keep pace with a certain group of participants each time. They are a group of men wearing matching shirts, and they take turns pushing a jogging stroller that holds a man, the son of one of the men on the team. Their shirts mention the number of races they have run together, and that they run for the son. It has inspired me both years. I see them work as a team. I see the way they share the work of pushing the jogger. I marvel that I struggle to keep pace with them even though I am…probably…15-20 years younger than they are (I haven’t asked their ages because my mother taught me not to ask, plus talking and running a half marathon is too much for me – every bit of energy needs to go to my legs and my mental stamina). Even though completing the half is huge for me, I believe that the race they run brings them much more satisfaction. I’m grateful to be alive. They are grateful for what they accomplished together for a son. They run with a deeper meaning pushing them toward the finish line. I wish I had a photo to share, but again…not enough energy or coordination for that.

The same applies to the work that we do. At work we appreciate a challenge to overcome, some grit to get to the desired goal. It pushes us, taps more of our potential, shows us what more we are capable of. While doing something easy and simple might seem like a break or treat, most people desire to be challenged. It’s how we see what we’ve got inside. Solving a problem, developing a new process, creating a new product, these give us such a sense of accomplishment. We feel great when we reach the goal. We hunger for the next opportunity.

I think this is because we desire to know that we are contributing. We aren’t just completing a task, we are making a difference. As leaders, it is critical that we help shape the work that our team does so that it has meaning. We need to help our team see problems as opportunities to unleash more potential from within ourselves and those we lead. 

Embrace the challenge. It brings meaning to the work that you do. Having meaning to our work helps us bring our best and push for more.

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