The Meaning of Work

Do you seek a balance between work and life? Or is your meaning of work also the meaning of life?

Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs suggests that in life people ultimately seek self-actualization. But they do this only after their more basic needs, such as food, health, friends, and respect, are adequately covered. It must be said that the hierarchical nature of Maslow’s model has received a fair amount of criticism, but I’m sure no critic would claim that winning on The X-Factor is the main concern for anyone who is starving or perishing.


Another model, suggested by psychology professor Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis, suggests that in work most people have either of three purposes: they see their work as a job, as a career, or as a calling. Again, there is an implied hierarchy here, which might be debatable. But again, no critic would believe that finding your calling comes easy when you’ve never had a job or two. Or three. Or thirteen.


The idea occurred to me that these two models seem to be nicely aligned. When people are trying to survive, paying for food and health, they just need a job. When people have time to pursue social concerns, seeking friends and respect, they probably see their work as a career. But when they’ve achieved all that, and they look for the meaning of life and the meaning of work, I believe they will be looking for self-actualization and a calling.


I could be wrong, but I believe that anyone who seeks a work-life balance is probably in one of the bottom four groups. Apparently, they cannot find self-actualization in their work, and thus the need for work must be “balanced” with the meaning of life.

Those who are in the top group don’t see work and life as being in conflict with each other. They prefer a work-life imbalance. For them, their work is part of their life. Because their work helps them self-actualize, their meaning of work is the meaning of life.

Blueprint-for-a-tribal-businessThis idea is part of the presentation
Blueprint for a Tribal Business. If you want me to tell you more about it at your next event, contact me.

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