What is work anyway?
Our beliefs about work are so embedded in our culture, that we often forget to pause and examine our understanding of work. How we view our work gives us our story of why we work, what good do we work for, and when we should work, and gives us the very reason to work in a way that is meaningful.
The old story of work has been rather bleak. It was even in the understanding of some religions that viewed work as a punishment for sin. In classical times, greek thinkers started to view work as “the lack of leisure”, popularized by Aristotle’s “we work to have leisure, on which happiness depends”.
The old story of work has been rather bleak. It was even in the understanding of some religions that viewed work as a punishment for sin. In classical times, greek thinkers started to view work as “the lack of leisure”, popularized by Aristotle’s “we work to have leisure, on which happiness depends”. This history has taken to our modern day context by Adam Smith, the father of industrial capitalism, who assumed that people were lazy by nature and would work only for money – he wrote in The Wealth of Nations that “It is in the interest of every man to live as much at ease as he can”, and then our economy and companies were designed on that assumption.
Today, even our language has evolved to reflect the sacrifice of this exchange – when we start calling our earning “compensation”, are we being compensated for exactly? The new science of motivation is starting to challenge this assumption, as we live in a world that is facing a crisis of meaning, yet is so interconnected, so resource-imbalanced, yet generating so much waste, especially the tragic waste of human potential.
How do we “earn” money?
The original spirit of earning money was in fact a way of giving expression to how we choose to create value for others. When we create real value for others, money flows to us because there is actual demand for the value we provide. However, value is not determined by us, but what other people consider as value. How then do we tune in to what is value?
The secret to creating meaningful value, is surprisingly in the exercise of compassion. Compassion is a deep empathy for another’s suffering that comes from understanding and caring, along with a strong desire and responsibility to ease their distress. When we become conscious of the responsibility towards another human being, we find the “why” for our existence, we realize our creativity and unique gifts in easing their burning pain, and we find the resilience in us to go through any struggle.
Earning = Service + Creativity
Earning money then becomes an act of service, an expression of our deepest caring for the world. And then creativity is needed to find ways where the money could come from. Especially in our complex world, many people who may need our service, may not have the ability to pay for it. That is where our creativity is needed to find ways of alignment to fund our work, and even push the boundaries of what organizations “look like” in the future.