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The balanced life: Meaningful Careers

Posted by Chad O'Connor  February 21, 2013 11:00 AM

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This article is the third in a monthly, five-part series that advocates for living a balanced life in the areas of: Global Citizenship, Local Volunteering, Meaningful Careers, Strong Networks, and an Empowered Self.

The “Dream Job”
When my mother was a teenager, she was interested in becoming a Funeral Director. She believed it would be meaningful to help comfort families in their time of need. But her father told her that was not a profession for females, and that she could choose one of the three professions more appropriate for females at that time… Teacher, Secretary, or Nurse. My mother and her two younger sisters became nurses, while her brothers pursued business and law. As children, our cultural context helps us develop ideas about what professions we want to pursue, and how to answer the oft-asked question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?

LinkedIn conducted a survey asking 8,000 professionals worldwide what their childhood dream jobs were. U.S. respondents’ answers revealed that the top five most frequently cited dream jobs were:

 

Male

Female

1.

Professional Athlete

Teacher

2.

Pilot

Veterinarian

3.

Scientist

Writer

4.

Lawyer

Doctor/ Nurse

5.

Astronaut

Singer

The survey results suggested that only one in 11 people are currently working in their childhood dream job. As adults we can imagine that the aforementioned professions, like any jobs, have their pros and cons… long hours of physical training, grading students’ papers, or suffering from writer’s block. Granted, these cons may not seem as mundane as the dull tasks represented on the TV show "The Office," which NBC claims parodies the “humorous, and sometimes poignant, foolishness that plagues the 9-to-5 world.”

Finding Meaning
Because American workers spend an average of 40-50 hours a week at work, it is understandable if people would like their work to be.... “Meaningful.” It could sometimes be as simple as re-reading your company’s mission statement, as a means to see the bigger picture, and stay motivated.

What is meaningful can also depend on the life stage one is in. For example, members of Generation Y are known to be more mission-driven than their parents in their choice of careers and other activities according to Neil Howe, author of Millennials Rising, who claims that Yers want to:
Live meaningful lives
Take initiative and ownership
Be acknowledged and commended for their work

Dr. Tim Butler, Founder of Career Leader, a Brookline-based career assessment program, conducted a study to identify the most common motivations, or “work reward values.” Of 27,000 people surveyed worldwide, the top 4 motivations (for non-entrepreneurs) were*:

20s Age Cohort

Male

Female

1.

Security

Recognition

2.

Prestige

Affiliation

3.

Financial Gain

Security

4.

Affiliation

Lifestyle


30s Age Cohort

Male

Female

1.

Prestige

Recognition

2.

Security

Security

3.

Positioning

Altruism

4.

Recognition

Variety

*Wasserman, The Founder’s Dilemmas (p.33). 2012

The one value that remained constant for men and women throughout their 20s and 30s was security. Considering the fluctuation of the economy and employment rate, many are happy to have a job they can keep. It’s also important to not sacrifice meaning for security, and continue to strive to learn and develop within your role, by taking initiative and responsibility for the path you wish to carve out for yourself. We cannot expect others to do it for us.

Making Meaning
While growing up in Southern New Jersey my father knew an Italian immigrant with little education who worked a challenging job as an hourly tool and tie maker. But when my father saw the man many years later, he discovered that he had significantly worked his way up the ranks of his company, and become a Senior VP in a Fortune 10 company. My father asked what his formula for success was. The man explained that he simply set a goal… began to tell his colleagues about his intentions… and over time gained their trust and support, through demonstrating that his hard work achieved results.

Whether or not you find meaning climbing the corporate ladder, it is vital that you make meaning doing whatever it is that you have chosen to do now… whether that is being a CEO, job seeker, or plumber. Martin Luther King is quoted as saying that, “if a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Take pride in your work, and make your own meaning.

Shannon O’Brien works at MIT, and is the founder of Whole U., a consultancy which advises on living balanced, purposeful lives, and connecting to meaningful careers and service projects. She can be reached at Shannon.OBrien@post.Harvard.edu and www.wholeuboston.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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