If you look at my resume, you will find a career path that makes no logical sense. You may ask, “How does one fit being a satellite communications tech, an intelligence analyst, a car salesman, and a third party recruiter into one career? Is he confused? Is he a job-hopper? What’s his deal? Add to the mix that I am now in the seminary to be a minister and you may really begin to think someone spiked my punch. But if you get to know me, it all begins to make sense when I tell you that in my work-life I found consistency in my love for people and my search for good work. The Tao of Work is my philosophy on the difference between work and a job. Please read it with mindfulness. And remember that it is not what we do that makes the greatest impression on the lives of others, but the purpose and meaning that we give to what we do.
In the beginning…
…there was work. Without exception, there is no other word in the entire human experience that has been given more power over us than this one. Of course there are other words like Love, Freedom, and Passion that give rise to emotion and evoke a response from the general populous. But, without the association or expression of work—all of these words are lifeless. Work is the essential activity that gives form to all of our highest ideals and motivations. No one can refute that life is work in as much as work is life. After all, if any one of our modern conveniences stops “working”, don’t we say that it has died?
I’ve embraced this view because it is vitally important that we call to consciousness the depths to which this activity penetrates our being if we are to have any hope of restoring it to its proper place in our society. As third party recruiters we are in an awesome position to influence lives on a daily basis. This is something we should not take for granted. In this so called “War for Talent” the best of us serve as ambassadors—we negotiate treaties between the factions known as the Employer and the Talent. With our eyes trained to see both sides of a relationship, we seek out the mutual good and help both parties see how the work that they can accomplish together far exceeds what they could do apart.
Of course, there are those of us who confuse work with a job. Unlike work, a job is just something you do for money. Just think—a synonym for a bank robbery is a bank job. When we confuse the two, it is an injustice and it reduces meaningful work and the people who perform the activities to nothing more than components in a money-making machine. When we do this, we have lost our way. Now, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy using money and receive it with gratitude. I just put it in its proper context. Money is a symbol of appreciation for something valued. Valued activity is work. Valueless activity is doing a job. When it’s just a job that means someone is getting robbed.
I came to terms with this philosophy about a year before I completely walked away from the intelligence analyst career path. Though an admirable career, I returned from an overseas trip to find that my work had become just a job. My heart was no longer in it. That trip to my area of responsibility showed me that my greatest service does not come in categorizing people into “Us and Them”. When I stopped feeling like I was serving, I knew I had to leave. I began to feel like I was getting paid to look for wrong in the world and in certain people. I am a people person and I value the power of positive relationships. Hence, being paid to be paranoid was poisonous to my personality. There was no way I could do that until retirement. I wanted to look for the good.
Around that time, a mentor told me that she began her career as an executive recruiter. I became intrigued by the idea that recruiters got paid to look for good people. I knew what I wanted to do. Now you might find this funny, but I had to actually fight to get into recruitment. With a top secret security clearance and being able to speak Mandarin in the DC metro area, every recruiter I spoke with did what they were trained to do—try to get me a job with government contractors or convince me to go to a different intelligence agency. I just didn’t want to. That was against the Tao of Work. If I wanted to do what I was already doing, I would have simply remained where I was.
There is an epidemic in today’s workforce—a disease I did not want to “contract”. Many of us have forgotten about the gift of good work. We don’t see work as the essence of life, but as something separate from it. We hate Mondays and can’t wait until Fridays so that we can live for two days and vacations. Something’s not right about that. There’s no fight for talent. We all have talent. There is a fight for meaning and the fight is happening within us. The last few years have been humbling. Companies know that they can’t make career-long commitments to their employees and employees know that they can’t hold on to those promises if they were made. Those days are gone.
Commitment was never meant to be externally motivated, but rather internally inspired. You can motivate someone to do a job, but they will work when they are inspired. Recruiters, we are in the work business. We should know the difference. Furthermore, we should take every opportunity to raise work to the level of honor that it deserves. We do this by valuing our work, valuing those we work for, and holding work itself to a higher standard.
I’ve only been recruiting for three and a half years, but I have been in relationships all of my life. I’ve lived and worked in many different types of environments and with all sorts of people from Liberian refugees to an Intelligence Officer from Ohio and Car Salesmen from Ethiopia. Through these experiences I have realized that everyone and everything in this world exists through and because of relationships—in other words, connections. Work naturally fosters relationships and relationships change you. With every relationship, our worlds get bigger and we are challenged to extend ourselves beyond our comfort zones. This scares most people. It can’t scare us.
I want to show you a pattern. It goes like this. People fear change. So if relationships change you then theoretically people must also fear relationships. But, we’ve already concluded that work fosters relationships, so that must mean that on some level many people must fear an aspect of work as well. And what do we do when we fear something? Well, we avoid it if we can and if we can’t do that then we try to distract ourselves as much as possible until it is over. That takes us right back to most people hating Mondays and saying “Thank God It’s Friday.” Does that sound like a stretch? Good. If you’re stretching then it means you’re growing.
So now the question is, “What do you do with The Tao of Work”? The answer is: Live it! In everything you do, hold work in high regard. Value everything it takes for anything to get accomplished in this world and challenge others to do the same. After you spend an hour with a candidate learning about their twenty years of work experience, don’t be content with a simple, “We’ll pass” from your client. You, that person, and even your client deserve more. If you found value in that candidate make sure the client knows it and is moved a little beyond their comfort zone when they respond. If they still say “no”, at least they’ll know what they are saying “no” to. And you can rest knowing that you’ve done good work.
this article is from the September 2010 print Fordyce Letter. To subscribe and receive a monthly print issue, please go to our Subscription Services page.