What’s the point of work? Why does your work matter? What are you working towards? Some people would say towards a paycheck, others might even say towards glory if they were being honest, but there are not so many who would say towards value and meaning.
In an illuminating TED talk about motivation at work, behavioral economist Dan Ariely says that people know that meaning is important but don’t grasp just how important it is. And for some reason that makes me think about how one of the most common deathbed regrets is wishing that you’d worked less, because at that stage, I’m guessing, what’s on your mind, what you’re reaching back for is the stuff that mattered.
Meaning, that connection to something larger than ourselves, is essential. But it is pushed aside in the often superficial yet tempting notions of self-improvement, that you’ll be better and happier, you’ll be a winner, when you’re fitter, faster, richer, thinner. And it slips away like a breeze from the principles of efficiency and productivity that continue to dominate the modern workplace despite persistent, crushing degrees of disengagement.
Getting motivation at work right seems like it will unlock success, but we pay a heavy price in not understanding that meaning is the master key.