Workplace

You are more than what you do

Do what you love, but don’t let what you do define you.

Work, done well, can be hard. It can eat you up. It can throw work/life out of balance.

The best careers are carved from opportunities that provide a sense of equilibrium, that allow as much financial and workplace advancement as you crave — along with as much “life” as you desire.

Once, when interviewing a world-famous CEO, I asked him to share a few bits of career advice. His response began, “Well, I’ve never heard anybody on their deathbed say they wish they’d spent more time at the office.”

Sound food for thought.

In any career, there are moments when work/life decisions can be made. To that end, I’m retiring after 44 years in The Kansas City Star’s newsroom, 22 of which I’ve spent a bit of time each week paying attention to workplace issues.

In the very first careers column I wrote, I noted that work-oriented Americans typically have a first question they ask when they meet someone new: “What do you do?”

The answer tends to define you in others’ eyes. That’s fine to a point. It starts conversations. It can open doors. But it shouldn’t define you.

In that first missive, published around Labor Day in 1995, I wrote:

“As the workaday world settles into its post-Labor Day routine, it’s a good time to take stock of what we call the workplace. … each of us might find value in some introspection. Do you like what you do? Do you like your job?”

The difference in those two questions “lies in the murky mire of workplace intangibles. It’s where words like ‘morale’ and ‘job satisfaction’ and ‘office politics’ get jumbled up with quantifiable measures like sales quotas and production rates.”

I mused that “from boardroom to beerhall, boutique to billing department, many of us have reduced our work to a paycheck, a means to an end, a boring tether that ties Sundays to Saturdays.”

Decades later, there’s no better way to follow those observations than to repeat: At the end of the day, it’s our self-esteem, our pride in what we do that matters most.

Jobs, whether in traditional employer/employee relationships or independent, freelance, contract or “gig economy” roles, involve contracts. Written, oral, made on a handshake or unspoken, that contract says you will do work in exchange for pay.

That contract might not explicitly ask you to do your best. But that should be understood. Your greatest job satisfaction will always come from knowing that you’re giving your best effort.

Across the workplace landscape, workers know there is no guarantee of recognition or rewards in exchange. But that’s where some of the work/life balance comes into play. You must decide if your rewards — tangible and intangible — are personally sufficient.

I’m so fortunate that mine have been. I wish that joy for everyone.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford

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