What is the meaning of work? Or should there be any meaning to it other than merely to generate livelihood?
If you ask the ant what the meaning is of collecting tiny bits of food to return to the hive with, or the anteater eating mass quantities of ants, or the jaguar who occasionally feasts on anteaters why they do what they do, they might just respond by saying it’s just what they do: the ant collects food, the anteater eats ants, and the jaguar hunts game.
If you ask the average modern person working in the world of business why they do what they do you might receive a similar response: to pay the bills, to eat, and to survive.
Not surprising eh? But here’s the rub.
We (as in humanity) have justified the massive, and at times wanton, destruction of nature, the terra forming of an already abundantly producing ecosystem to fit our needs—or to state it more accurately—to support the continual growth of business and commerce. We have justified our cruelty to nature by affirming our rank in the food chain, our ability for deep self-awareness, our intelligence, and our supremacy over wild living animals, plant life, and water systems.
However, if we assert that we have supremacy above the natural environment, then we must earn that right to supremacy beyond merely declaring it. We must aspire to a life of deeper meaning and purpose and do all that we can to achieve it. Otherwise we are no higher and no better than the ant collecting or the anteater eating or the jaguar hunting.
In the work of shifting and bolstering organizational culture one thing becomes abundantly obvious: that to strengthen culture in a palpable way we must deepen the purpose of our work.
To peel the onion another layer, the ant actually has a much deeper purpose than we may realize. In fact the entire eco-system would break down if the ants went away. The anteater and the jaguar also serve a purpose, as there are numerous studies showing how predator animals play important roles in the overall health of the eco-system. So on the surface it may seem as though they just collect, eat, and hunt, they actually serve a deeper purpose to all of life. And, if we diminish the purpose of our work to merely making money we are denying ourselves a place in a broader system from which our lives take on a deeper meaning and importance than just working to exist.
And … to offer an even more radical perspective … what if we really are no higher or more privileged than the eco system—that we are equal to all other living systems? This, of course, is the value system embodied by the indigenous people and the ideal by which they have lived in near perfect harmony with nature for eons of time. This is also the ideal by which we can transcend the bonds of mediocrity and rise to a level of organizational excellence based on rich and thriving cultures that are fueled by a deeper meaning than just collecting, eating, hunting, and making money.
The surprising truth is that when we strive for a higher purpose in our businesses we actually become more profitable, but the higher profits do not come from an insincere attempt at community engagement or environmental stewardship. It comes from an authentic desire to rise above the prevailing paradigm of business existing merely to make money.
Tip of the Week
To take a step, an incremental movement toward greater purpose in work, make a commitment to meditate for one hour on this question, “Why do I work?” Meditation can look like different things to different people. It doesn’t have to mean sitting in the lotus position on a thin pillow with perfectly aligned posture. It could be a walking meditation in nature, sitting quietly in your favorite chair, or sitting in the dark of morning when the house is quiet and still. However it looks to you, invest just one hour to deeply consider this question. And then notice what comes from it.