Work as therapy

The pre-COVID days, finding meaning in work, and 5 links worth your time

Hey, remember February of this year?

Me neither.

I mean, I know it existed, but it’s hard to remember anything that was happening before this dumpster-fire that is 2020 really got rolling. As I was thinking about Labor Day and how I could get out of doing any extra work before the holiday, I remembered that my colleagues and I had spent some time in February working on an issue of this newsletter about how we find meaning and dignity in work. Maybe, I thought, I could just use that for this issue and head out for the weekend!

Finding meaning in work

Wow, what a difference seven months makes.

We were certainly onto something when we dug into that topic. We didn’t know it then, but we were about to find out how much meaning our professional routines provided, especially when just a few weeks later we were cut off from our office, each other, and many of the businesses that played important roles in our lives.

When you celebrated Labor Day, were you most enthusiastic about some extra time with your family or were you just happy to be away from a job you hate?

A Gallup poll in late 2019 found that, even before the recent awfulness, Americans were not as happy as we used to be. One of the contributing factors to this dissatisfaction? Most of us think our jobs are “mediocre” or “bad.” That’s a real problem, because we also rely on our jobs to provide at least some of the meaning in our lives.

Work as therapy

Back in February, I sat down with Gregg Keesling, the founder and president of RecycleForce, a social enterprise in Indianapolis that employs formerly incarcerated individuals in e-waste recycling. Gregg’s business helps lower the recidivism rate for individuals re-entering the community, but it also provides a profitable service, and I wanted to know more about how all that happens.

Our conversation (which you can find in link #4) taught me a lot about RecycleForce’s success. What I didn’t expect was how much our conversation would make me think about the relationship between work and meaning in my own life. I am not a formerly incarcerated individual and odds are that you aren’t, either. But we all have more in common with Gregg’s employees than we might think, and the remainder of 2020 has certainly demonstrated the truth of this.

Gregg told me “work is therapy,” and here’s what he means:

I don’t only mean that when a person works they feel better about themselves because they are earning a wage; what I am trying to convey in that simple statement is that work – be it on our factory floor, sitting behind a desk, picking up litter, or removing graffiti – connects one with civil society and provides a pathway to hope. Finding dignity in work is what makes work “therapy”.  

If you’ve been feeling disconnected, it’s no surprise. The disruption of COVID goes deeper than the virus. Like the “returning citizens” Gregg employs, your own work connects you to civil society and gives you hope. In our five links this week, we’ve gathered resources that can help you consider how your own work keeps you engaged with community.

That’s a topic that doesn’t have a shelf life.

5 links worth your time

  1. What Makes a Job Meaningful?, Brookings Institute – This study from the Brookings Institute find that there are three key factors to whether or not we find meaning in our jobs. The most important being “relatedness” and the relationships we have at work.

  2. Where Americans Find Meaning in Life, Pew Research Center – Despite all our differences, many of us seem to hold one thing in common as Americans: deriving meaning from our careers. While family is the most common answer to questions about “where do you find meaning,” our professional lives constitute significant meaning for at least a third of us.

  3. The paradox of social distancing: We’ve grown closer to co-workers during the coronavirus pandemic, The Conversation – While working from home has been socially isolating in some respects, some people have managed to make deeper connections with their work colleagues in the age of Zoom meetings.

  4. Work is a Pathway to Hope, Civil Squared Podcast – Remember how I said, “What a difference seven months makes?” One of the things that was different was that we called our podcast Ideas at Work back then. Even though the format is somewhat different, the idea is the same: engaging conversations with interesting people. Here, you can hear my conversation with Gregg Keesling of RecycleForce from earlier this year.

  5. Work is Therapy, RecycleForce – In Gregg’s newsletter he lays out what he means by “Work is therapy.” In particular, he connects that idea to re-entry, poverty, and the work his company is doing in Indianapolis to address those challenges.