Listen to the audio version of this post here.
For openers, I hope you are pleased with your work. Maybe not with every single task you accomplish all day long—that would be a tall order, wouldn’t it?
I do hope, though, that when you consider how you make your way in the world, you feel positive about most of what you do.
I’m pondering this question because of what The Reverend Jesse Jackson said in a Chicago Tribune article about his 80th birthday.
“Times change, but some values don’t change,” Rev. Jackson said. “I’ve spent my time trying to build up, and I want God to be pleased with my work. I walk down the street and people wave and holler, and I appreciate that, but I want God to be pleased with my work.”
That got me thinking …
A few caveats.
Some of us don’t accept the notion of a Supreme Being. If that describes you, I hope you’ll go with me on this exploration, in spite of your doubts.
All of us who do believe in a Higher Power don’t share the same conception of who or what that Power is. Humans have been fighting forever, sometimes to the death, about whose god is the real God.
We might know that God is real and doubt that God is interested enough in our work to be pleased or not. To be honest, I fall into this camp. Really, assuming the existence of an Almighty, wouldn’t this be an excellent time for their attention to be on much bigger issues than how I make my living?
Even with all that, Rev. Jackson’s comment seems like a useful way to evaluate the work we do, whatever it is.
What questions might we ask?
Pondering my own work in this light, a few questions come to mind.
- Who does my work serve? If it supports me, and maybe my family, that’s a start, right? There’s something to be said for being what ancient traditions called a good householder, doing the ordinary activities well to maintain our selves, family, home, and community.
- Does my work give me the time and/or money to support organizations that do direct good in the world? They tackle seemingly intractable social or environmental problems. They take care of people or other creatures in need. And as their PSAs regularly remind us, they can’t do it without our help.
- Does my work have a positive impact on somebody, somewhere? Is their life or maybe their work better because of what I do for them?
The answer’s an obvious yes for medical professionals, for instance, and for those in healthcare who might not be called professional. Ditto for others in what are often labeled “the helping professions.” Psychotherapy, social work, education—fields that offer support for the rest of us.
How about public service? The police, the firefighters, the judges and clerks and bailiffs. The people who run our libraries, manage the parks, or keep the streets clean. You might think they’re in good shape for Judgement Day. Or maybe you have some doubts about some of them.
And then there are the rest of us.
We’re in marketing or customer service or sales—our offerings run from soup to nuts. We work at Target, Starbucks, or the neighborhood dry cleaner. Or we’ve found a corporate home in banking, manufacturing, or pharmaceuticals.
Would God be pleased with our work?
Here’s how I answer the questions.
My clients would tell you they develop their speaking skill and their professional presence when they work with me.
They feel more confident about presenting, they’re better able to influence the people they deal with at work. Often, they see tangible results—a promotion, a plum assignment, an award.
When I speak to a group, I almost always hear from individuals who learned something new, or were inspired to take action, or they see possibilities for themselves that they didn’t see before. Sometimes people reach out long after a gig, talking about the impact I had on them. That delights me.
Of course, on any given day, I do a lot of seemingly insignificant work that doesn’t appear to make much difference to anybody. On the other hand, even the small tasks ultimately keep the business humming along. (Okay, sometimes sputtering along.)
So, on balance, I’m saying my work does have a positive impact on somebody, somewhere. Phew!
Would God be pleased with my work? Maybe one day I’ll find out.
In the meantime, I’m going to add a question to my morning writing. Who will benefit from my work today? Yes, I have a To Do list; it will be worth considering, once the to-dos are done, will anyone be better off?
And what about your work?
Who benefits from what you’re doing today? And what impact does it have on you to wonder about that?
As always, I can’t wait to hear a comment from you.
As always, you bring an uncanny knack of speaking to the heart of the matter and today this is exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you as always Catherine for speaking a truth that will help guide my day — I appreciate you and your newsletter so very much!
Your response delights me, Love Ann. Yes, it could be a guide for our day, this question of who will pleased, who will benefit from the work I do?
Thank you for being in touch.
Catherine, as always, I appreciate that your post always gives me something to ponder. I’ve been in a mode of analyzing ‘what’s next’ for my career, and ‘doing some good’ with my work has been a major goal. But these simple questions helped me to break down the fact that being of service to someone else can happen in so many ways. Just wanted to let you know that waking up to read your column gave me a positive mindset to start my day, and a lense through which to continue to assess the next chapter of my work. Thank you!!
That’s so good to hear, Kim. I think this notion of doing some good with our work is important…and it’s useful to take a wide view of what “some good” might mean. I don’t have to be Jonah Salk or Mother Teresa to be of service to somebody somewhere. Part of asking the question is taking time to notice all the seemingly small ways each of us has an impact on the people–and the world–around us.
Great, thought-provoking blog, Catherine. I think about this, too. Yes, I work to make $ to support our family, but there has to be a greater good out there. I’d like to think I’m contributing to that. – Nora
I bet your clients are certain you’re contributing to the greater good, Nora. Think what it means to people to share their stories in a world where we often feel no one’s much interested in our stories.
I was fortunate enough to listen to what you had to say yesterday morning on a Zoom meeting. I appreciate your honest observations, the ability to share good feedback and challenging feedback all while making others feel comfortable! Keep up the good work I’m sure God notices!
Oh, Jan, this is wonderful to hear. My hope is always that even the challenging feedback lands well and helps people make a shift in the way they communicate their value. I’m convinced that many are overlooked and under-heard. They can contribute so much when they discover how to “show up and shine.” Thanks –and I hope you’re right about God!