Gallup’s annual poll on employee engagement has collected survey results from nearly forty million people.
Here’s one question from their inventory:
At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best?
This sounds like a dream job, right? Who doesn’t want walk into the office every day and stretch their best muscles?
Sadly, not everyone has this luxury. The daily experience of using one’s unique talents to make a difference for people and on the organizations of which they are a part, it’s not guaranteed. For many, it’s not probable. For some, it’s not even possible.
But something that is available to everyone is the existential exercise of taking a heroic stand inside our own heads about the work we do. Believing that we are mythological characters who have nominated themselves to go on an epic journey.
Sound grandiose and childish? That’s the whole point.
In order not to feel pushed around by the chaotic and mundane circumstances at work each day, we have to do some serious reframing. We have to consciously reinterpret our professional situation in a more positive light.
Nepo writes that myths and stories have been a way to carry forward the quandaries of living, to help keep in view what’s hard to keep in view, and to return us to what matters when we forget. He’s whispering a reminder that even this mythology that only exists inside our heads is still worthwhile. If it helps us get through another day without choking our team members with orange extension cord, it’s worth it.
Gallup’s survey question, then, could use an existential update.
My colleague who runs a successful branding agency has a fascinating way of approaching employee engagement, and her version of this question has always resonated with me.
Have you reframed the work you do in the world so you can see your role in a light that makes best use of your talents?
Having worked at a few agencies and startups in my career, this question has been a life saver for me. Because when you spend eight hours a day on tasks like writing ad copy for banks, auditing focus groups for the department of health, and doing research on the tequila drinking habits of recent college graduates, it’s helpful to tell myself a meaningful, mythological story.
Considering my basic existential fear is having no identity or personal significance, this reframing tool that helps me feel heroic. It motivates me to walk into the office every morning reframing my work as another opportunity to take part in the ongoing creation of the world.
In a world that feels more and more like a dystopian fiction novel every day, we may as well imagine ourselves as the protagonist in a heroic narrative.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What if your sense of personal vocation in your work made you not want to get away from it?