Most of us face a daily dilemma: we have to earn a living. We do this by going to work. And most of us don’t enjoy work. We think of work as… well, work. Just watch The Office and you’ll see some of the associations that ring true for the show’s millions of fans. Its mostly gloomy characters work at uninspiring jobs surrounded by incompetent, amoral or socially challenged coworkers. Why do so many of us live notably less funny versions of this reality, day in, day out? Because we need the paycheck, and because most us believe this is the only way to get it.
Is there an alternative to The Office mentality? Can work be called, as my former employer suggested, “play”? In short, yes. There are millions of people out there for whom work is not only financially fulfilling, but also personally fulfilling.
One example of a person for whom work is meaningful? Oprah. Yes, Oprah. Not because she’s incredibly successful and rich. On the contrary, Oprah is successful and rich specifically because she followed her inner calling. What does this mean? Following your calling has two components.
First, to follow your inner calling, ask yourself, “What am I good at, and what do I enjoy doing?” These two questions must be asked together, because many people are good at tasks they don’t enjoy. For example, I’m pretty good at data entry. But if I were to pursue a career in data entry I’d spend the rest of my life hating work. This doesn’t mean if you enjoy data entry, there’s something wrong with you. Because each of us has our own unique talents and passions, and because we are each so different, there is more than enough work to go around.
Second,you must be able to work within your values. In the most basic sense, this refers to your ethics. Regardless of our religious or national affiliation, each of us has a personal code of ethics, whether we’ve explicitly articulated it or not. To access this code, check in with your gut. For example, imagine your boss tells you to fabricate an optimistic financial report for an upcoming presentation to the CEO. “This will buy us more time to increase our revenue,” he says. Whether or not you’re concerned about the very real prospect of getting caught, chances are your gut may be churning, or your heart racing as you consider the directive. These are signals from your body that this action doesn’t fit your personal code of ethics. In addition to ethics, values also refer to broad objectives for your work, like helping people, making a difference or working in a diverse environment.
To see how Oprah followed her inner calling, let’s start by looking at her talents. She’s personable, articulate, self-aware, and connects to people from different backgrounds. A great combination of qualities for a talk show host. More importantly, she enjoys her work. How do we know this? We witness her interest as she delivers relevant questions and shares her opinions.
Now the kicker. Oprah incorporates her values into her work. She has embraced a nontraditional “talk show” role by delivering a message that is personally meaningful to her. Show after show, Oprah encourages viewers to honor their spirit, to go for it, to live the life of their dreams. Why is Oprah qualified to deliver this message? Because she lives it. For Oprah, work is play. And it can be for us, too. All we need is the courage to claim the life of our dreams.