The Pursuit of Meaningful Work

Since 2015, the Foundation and the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business have selected young people each year to participate in a two-year Entrepreneurship Career Program. They receive specialized training in social entrepreneurship, nonprofit management, social innovation and development engineering. In this issue Tyler Saltiel shares with us his insights about the pursuit of meaningful work.

When another cold and dreary February morning greets you with the alarm, finding the drive to get up and face the day can be a monotonous challenge. Sure, the kettle and a hot mug of your morning indulgence helps but finding the inspiration to make your way to the workplace can be the journey of a lifetime for some. Everyone needs a purpose in their work to motivate them in their continued effort day in and day out. Across all industries, functions, roles, and demographics, individuals find their purpose in different ways. For some it may be gaining approval or making their way up the organizational ladder. For others it may be making an impact in their field or for the people they serve. For yet others, it may be the ability to have a level of freedom to work from wherever they choose or plentiful time to be free of work. And for some, it may just be a paycheck that allows them to pursue purpose in other ways outside of their workplace.

At the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, a cohort of students studied this during Fall 2017 in a new course offering entitled “The Pursuit of Meaningful Work.” The purpose of the course was aimed at not only determining the sources of meaningfulness that lead people to their decisions of where and how they will work but also determining strategies for coaching individuals and teams in identifying their purpose. Our studies were primarily structured around the four primary forms of mind that people take in their pursuit of purpose.

self-sovereign form of mind

Individuals who have a self-sovereign form of mind perceive work as a way to satisfy their own wants and needs. They find a great deal of enjoyment in the work itself or in the what the work allows them to pursue and are often in roles where they can work for long periods of time as individual contributors. Self-sovereign individuals struggle with professional growth or the acquisition of new skills since the challenges faced in this process interrupt their enjoyment of the current state.

socialized form of mind

While self-sovereign individuals have a self-determined point of view, individuals with a socialized form of mind find their value in their standing among peers. They perceive work as a way to cultivate and maintain approval from others. For them, achievement at work most often means reaching a high level of proficiency and the positive recognition that comes with that. However, when it comes to mastering skills or acquiring new ones, socialized individuals are prone to quit at the first signs of failure as they see it as a threat to their reputation.

self-authoring form of mind

The self-authoring form of mind leads individuals who have it to take a different approach to purpose. These people perceive work as a means of living out their principles which they see as core to their identity. They find inclusion and belonging within their workplace by demonstrating those principles. Achievement for these people often means growing and learning in their pursuit of new skills and reaching a level of mastery. While others may struggle with facing challenges, self-authoring individuals see these obstacles as evidence of their commitment to their principles.

self-transforming form of mind

A final orientation is the self-transforming form of mind. Individuals with this form of mind are prone to let go of pre-conceived notions and so that meaning can emerge in their work, allowing themselves to transform. Growth and learning are key aspects of achievement in their work and their greatest motivator. Rather than seeing challenges and setbacks as a threat or evidence of commitment, these individuals use them as indicators that point them toward mastery and acquisition of new skills.

These concepts are ones that industry leaders in professional development and coaching are just beginning to work with and still gaining their understanding of. Consulting groups such as Imperative are developing tools and gathering leaders together to discuss purpose for individuals, teams, and employers. While these practices grow and find their place in developing how future workplaces orient themselves, there is an opportunity to drive how this work is done and what the future of employment looks like. It’s an exciting time to work in professional coaching or to be researching how people find meaning in their work.