What do you get from your work?

„Basically, the reason I keep at it…is that my wife is from this area, she is very happy to be here, and it is the only firm of its type here that does the kind of law that I have now trained for and worked inthe last seven years of my life. It would be very difficult to break out…so I find myself basically saying, „Well, as long as I can keep the family together, that’s what I’m going to do.“…It’s a deal with the devil…I’m not a happy guy“ ~ Corporate Securities Lawyer

„I don’t see myself ever stopping [working] completely… I like it too much. It’s very satisfying. I mean, it is like an art form, for one thing. It’s a tremendous art…I did a duck for a guy the other day…and when he came and picked it up he almost started crying because it looked so nice. He was just so happy…and that makes me feel good, that he thought I’d done a great job. Self-satisfaction is a big deal in any job. It’s a big deal in life.“ ~ Taxidermist

In a work culture that puts great emphasis on performance, people tend focus almost solely on performance goals: sales made, deals closed, salary earned, papers published, customer satisfaction… But work is more than just performing – it is also about learning and enjoyment. Although people might acknowledge learning and enjoyment as “products”, even “bi-products” of their work, a more fresh and comprehensive perspective as to what “work” is in order.

You can start with pondering the question “What definition of work do I bring to work with me?” Do you see your work as:

  • What you must do vs. what you want to do?
  • What you do for pay?
  • Doing what your boss tells you to do?
  • Accomplishment?
  • Obligation?
  • Fun?

It can even be that you’ve never actually asked yourself this question: “What is work for me?”. But despite not having defined it explicitly, the meaning you give to “work” becomes the context and the background conversation for all your actions at work. Psychology literature refers to three possible ways in which people perceive their work:

  1. work as a job: the primary focus is on financial rewards of work, a financial means to an end of enjoying time away from work.
  2. work as a career: a focus on rewards that accompany movement and promotion through organizational structures (self-esteem, increased power, and higher social standing)
  3. work as a calling: work as an end in itself, marked by fulfillment that the work itself brings.

So, which one is yours? Do you perceive your work as a job, career or calling?

For perceptions of work as job or career, it’s likely that the emphasis will be mainly on performance goals. Incorporating learning and enjoyment into the definition of work has potential in transforming your perception and experience of work beyond a job or a career.

While performance goals relate to changes mainly outside you (salary, publications, deals closed), learning and enjoyment goals relate to changes inside you (competence, strategic thinking, empathy, less stress, fun). This way the latter two goals have greater potential in contributing to a sense of fulfillment from work.

In his book on The Inner Game of Work Tim Galleway defines return on investment of your work time as:

ROI = Performance + Learning + Enjoyment

This means you need to be setting and pursuing learning and enjoyment goals along with your performance goals to maximize your ROI.
This time I’ll focus on learning goals and a process to pursue them.

  1. Set learning goals. Be clear about what you want to learn and why.
  2. Think where and with which methods this learning will take place,
  3. Decide how you will measure your learning.

Learning goals can involve qualities (being courageous, analytical, diplomatic); understanding of things/people (cost models, communication styles); expertise (know-how, skills); strategic thinking (ability to step back and see the big picture).

Best method for learning will take place from your own interaction with your work experience. After experiences that you think will further your learning, reflect on the experience and insights that emerge.

For example, let’s take relating to your co-workers more empathetically as a learning goal.

  • Goal: relating to co-workers more empathetically
  • Why: to improve relationships
  • Method/How: as first step, by practicing careful listening and asking questions
  • Where & when: at weekly team meeting
  • Reflection: after the team meeting, reflect on the experience –  to what extent you were able to listen carefully and ask questions; how you felt doing that (was it easy, difficult, uncomfortable?); how did the co-workers respond?; what can you do better last time to pursue your goal?

Now, if you would like to increase your ROI of work time define yourself at least one learning goal and start pursuing it by following the above structure.Next time, enjoyment goals and how positive psychology can help you fulfill them…


Wrzesniewski, A. (2003). Finding positive meaning at work. In K.S. Cameron, J.E. Dutton, & R.E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive Organizational Scholarship. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Bowe, J., Bowe, M, & Streeter, S. (2000). Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs.

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