How do you bring personal meaning to your work?

OK, take a look at just a few headlines from the last year. Notice a pattern? There’s a discussion going on in the public sphere about expressions of spirituality and personal values at work.  Whether or not you feel it applies to you, the civic dialogue affects us all, and how we deal with these issues depends on how we express ourselves and how we listen to others.

 Why you hate your work,” The New York Times, May 30

Hint: It’s because things like renewal, focus and purpose aren’t addressed by management. Can you relate?

A new generation confronts the culture war and shrugs,” Huffington Post, July 10

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Apparently Millennials aren’t “overly concerned about safeguarding traditional religious values.” I’m neither surprised nor discouraged by that, but I am intrigued. Millennials, tell me more about this.

Meditation and the art of helping MBA students to become mindful,” Financial Times, June 1

The Georgetown U biz school offers a course in meditation — because, well, it works …

Identifying as Muslim on resumes may lead to fewer job opportunities, survey says,” Huffington Post, June 16

I’m shocked, shocked!

When the boss says, ‘Don’t tell your coworkers how much you get paid’,” The Atlantic, July 15

Feeling like a pawn in an ethics game?  

U.S. military allowing some religious garb, beards; policy change to affect mainly Sikhs, Muslims, Jews,” Haaretz, Jan. 23

For instance, followers of Sikhism, the only religion that requires turbans as a religious practice, can now wear turbans, as Jewish personnel can wear yarmulkes or skullcaps, as long as it doesn’t interfere with duty.  And yes, it makes things a little more complex, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing — it widens the picture to squeeze in a little more of our humanity.

Our new culture war issue: Religion’s public role,” Washington Post, Sept. 24

I think we can differentiate between the government interfering with people freely practicing their religion, and religious groups enforcing their beliefs on others — but sometimes the line looks fine. Do you think the issue is always clear? Well, a recent poll says that, among Americans, 46 percent say they care more about the first, 46 percent the second.  Hmm … 

Why work is more and more debased,” The New York Review of Books, Oct. 23

If The New York Review is covering two books about the diminishing, not just of the economics of the workforce, but of the humanity of it, something must be up.

And if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve heard about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the court decided that a closely held corporation could be exempt from a law — in this case, the coverage of certain contraceptives — if it conflicted with owners’ religious beliefs. Though the ruling was more limited than some of the hullabaloo might suggest, it definitely carries problematic implications for workers’ and women’s rights and for the (possibly spiritual?) question of whether a corporation is a person.

What does it look like to you?

Whatever you think about these headlines, I’ll bet some of them hit home in one way or another because they sit right at the crossroads I looked at in my previous essay: where the world of work intersects with people’s personal values — or faith, spirituality, religion — choose your word.

It’s already on the table, folks.  It’s there in legal action from SCOTUS on down, in organizations both public and privately held, in education, and across the range of the media. And the way to help the action and coverage be as constructive as possible isn’t to be less aware of how we handle these topics in civic dialogue — it’s to be more aware.  

There are so many rich ways into the dialogue, which I look forward to unfolding with you over the course of this series of blog posts. But for now, here’s just one doorway in:

The headlines above all share, in one way or another, the question of bringing personal meaning into work. This quick sampling of articles already shows a wide range of what that can look like, and the options that exist out there are far wider still. There are as many ways to find personal meaning in work as there are people who talk about it.

So what about you? Do you feel like the type of work you do shows something of what you value in life? If so, what does that look like to you — in your own words, how do you describe it?

Or — does that matter to you at all? Lots of people feel a tug at some point in their work lives over how their job syncs with what’s most important to them personally.  Others have it in the foreground of their decisions from the get-go.  And still others never feel like it’s a question at all.  

Sometimes we talk about that as the difference between a job (where you’re earning your money) and your vocation (which is more about who you are as a human). Do you ever feel that difference? Tell us in the comments below.

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