In Johann Hari’s book, Lost Connections, Hari reports that about 83% of us do not find our jobs to be meaningful. If we had a choice to not work because money would no longer be a factor in our lives, 83% of us would walk away from our jobs or careers and find something else to do that we are passionate about.
The other 17% of us would continue to do the work that we do or stay in the same career that we are in whether we won the lottery or not.
Hari contends that any job or career can depress us if we are subject to the mechanism or routines that make us feel that what we are doing is meaningless. In other words, when we feel connected to our work or feel that we are making an impact on others, we feel better about what we do and as a result, we feel good about ourselves. This is where our jobs or careers intersect with our identity-in-the-making (which is always changing).
Let’s take a brief look at education. We are in the business of helping children and adult learners and professionals. Most educators would say that their career in education is, indeed, meaningful. We feel good because we are working hard to enrich students’ lives. As a result, our identity is shaped in a positive way because of the belief that we are helping others—which is very meaningful to most of us.
But, even in education, there are widgits and assembly-line mechanisms that don’t make us feel that we are doing meaningful work to help children. There are automated tasks and responsibilities that prevent us from having a good day, sometimes, especially when we usually have pretty good days, for the most part, working in the greatest profession on earth.
Right now, you could be thinking of a few things that you find to be meaningless tasks even in your meaningful career. If you wrote these things down right now, what would they be? If you had to list 3 meaningless tasks or duties that you, as a teacher or school leader do each year, what would they be and how happy (or unhappy) do these tasks make you?
Hari’s work about depression and my recent extrapolation of his work into the field of education intrigues me. There are tasks that we all do not enjoy and there are tasks that we love.
In what ways can we leverage Hari’s social science analysis to re-design the things we do not like doing in order to increase our happiness in what we do?
It might sound strange to think that we do have control even over the things that we do not like doing, but rather than tell you that you just don’t have to do the meaningless tasks ever again would be incredibly ignorant of me and unwise for you to follow.
There are policies and procedures that we have to do even in the career of education. There are reports that we must churn out. There is data to analyze. Fire drills that we have to make sure we conduct. There are things that we just have to do that we don’t really want to do, but we suck it up and just get on with it—but these tasks could chip away at a good day and end up making us feel that we had a meaningless day when we left the house.
I do want to invite you to try looking at your list of 3 duties or tasks that you don’t really enjoy so much and brainstorm ways to increase the meaningfulness of those mundane or meaningless tasks.
You might not know how to do that at first, but collaborating with your trusted colleagues about this exercise could increase your meaningful days into an even greater plethora of more meaningful days. And, that just might be a good place to start for brightening our careers that already might be very fulfilling. It can only help our students that we feel better about what we do in as many things that we have to do.