Living Your Purpose, Part 1: Everyone Is An Artisan

For the next few days, I am going to write a series on what my own personal journey has taught me about vocation, purpose and work. The Great Recession has provided many of us with the voluntary or involuntary opportunity to reassess our purpose, to evaluate our current career paths and to return to a path more in line with our deepest desires, our created purpose and creative instincts. Over and over again, I’ve heard that same story in the last year: how unemployment forced some of us to let go of materialistic goals and the rat race to pursue those dreams closest to our hearts and to our highest ideals. This week I’d like to reflect on that journey, and how we can find our way when that opportunity comes our way.

Today, I wish to begin with the NY Times op-ed yesterday by Thomas Friedman. The point of his editorial was not to discuss purpose at work, but he made some comments that I felt were perfect for this discussion. Friedman argues that the workers who will be successful in this new economy after the Great Recession will be those who bring creativity to the workplace so that they offer something unique and create extraordinary customer experiences. That doesn’t mean you have to work at Apple or Google to be playfully creative at work. In the past, you could keep a job just by making a hamburger at a local diner. In this new economy, you may want to design a heart with the ketchup on the burger because it shows attention to detail and an extra touch. Friedman gives other examples. But creativity, play, and customer experiences are going to be key for employees who survive in this new territory. Friedman writes that everyone is an artisan at his or her job now:

“But not everyone can write iPhone apps. What about your nurse, barber or waiter? Here I think Lawrence Katz, the Harvard University labor economist, has it right. Everyone today, he says, needs to think of himself as an “artisan” — the term used before mass manufacturing to apply to people who made things or provided services with a distinctive touch in which they took personal pride. Everyone today has to be an artisan and bring something extra to their jobs.

For instance, says Katz, the baby boomers are aging, which will spawn many health care jobs. Those jobs can be done in a low-skilled way by cheap foreign workers and less-educated Americans or they can be done by skilled labor that is trained to give the elderly a better physical and psychological quality of life. The first will earn McWages. The second will be in high demand. The same is true for the salesperson who combines passion with a deep knowledge of fashion trends, the photo-store clerk who can teach you new tricks with your digital camera while the machine prints your film, and the pharmacist who doesn’t just sell pills but learns to relate to customer health needs in more compassionate and informative ways. They will all do fine.

But just doing your job in an average way — in this integrated and automated global economy — will lead to below-average wages. Sadly, average is over. We’re in the age of “extra,” and everyone has to figure out what extra they can add to their work to justify being paid more than a computer, a Chinese worker or a day laborer. “People will always need haircuts and health care,” says Katz, “and you can do that with low-wage labor or with people who acquire a lot of skills and pride and bring their imagination to do creative and customized things.” Their work will be more meaningful and their customers more satisfied.”

What are you doing today to make your workplace meaningful and playful? What extra are you bringing to your work that no one expects and wows those who experience it? The work itself is something a lot of people can do. But it’s the something extra that only you can do that proves your worth to employers, and it’s that something extra that reveals your created purpose.

via The Election That Wasn’t – NYTimes.com.

For more resources, see the book FISH! and the works of Richard Florida.

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