A recent study said 47 per cent of Canadians are unhappy in their jobs. Many cite lack of pay as the main reason but it’s not the only factor. Many find the work environment difficult or say their work lacks meaning.
Of course, leaving a job isn’t necessarily a good thing. It can take significant time to make a positive impact, no matter what you do. It also takes a great deal of introspection and self-awareness to determine where you fit in the world of work.
Unless the work is completely unethical, you can make almost any job meaningful. It’s ultimately up to you. The key is to have a mission in life, to know your purpose.
For example, when I worked summers as a pool cleaner during my university years, I found the job much more enjoyable when I knew I was offering the best service possible. The work became testament to the person I am, and I was able to demonstrate that to my customers and my employer.
Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and witness to the horrors of Nazi work camps, tells us, “We do not invent our mission; we detect it.” In other words, there’s something deep within that calls us to our purpose. This moves us from simply doing a job to living out our vocation or mission in life.
“Be the change you want to see in the world,” Mohandas Gandhi is thought to have said.
But we need to first ask what kind of world we want to see. The answer reveals our inner values. Do we believe, for example, that peace, respect, love, joy and integrity are important?
If so, the only way to make them more prevalent is to practise them.
From there, we can ask how we can leave a legacy that reflects our values.
The challenge then becomes to decide how you can best leave a legacy, taking into account who you are as an individual. This goes beyond your talents – it’s a question of finding what fills your soul.
I’ve always been good at math, for example, but as an extrovert I would have found working in an accountant’s office torturous. I enjoyed being a pool cleaner but I knew it wouldn’t fulfill my soul’s purpose.
Through a number of part-time jobs, I realized how much I enjoyed working with young people. I’ve always believed in equal opportunity and looking back, I see why I was drawn to public education. Being a teacher in a very heterogeneous high school clearly resonates with my desire to celebrate and draw out the giftedness in each person, regardless of their background. Writing a column allows me to expand this reach beyond the confines of age and physical structure.
Perhaps the solution to unhappiness at work is to define your purpose. According to the British Columbia school curriculum, a significant piece of career education is to give students the opportunity to experience their career journeys in personally meaningful and goal-oriented ways. So it’s important for students to explore their personalities, interests and learning styles, and to put together a mission statement that reflects what resonates for them.
Of course, our experience in high school doesn’t define us for a lifetime. It’s valuable for all of us to not just go through the motions of life and work. We need to reflect on what we believe is important in life and the kind of people we wish to be.
We never stop growing, our situations never stop changing. We’re our own greatest investment and when our work reflects the people we are, we find dignity and joy in our labour.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.