By Tino Mantella
TLG President & CEO
Today there is no hotter or more important topic than mental health and well-being. We all see it. Depression and other mental health issues are taking place, at alarming rates, in every industry, position, and place in the world. And it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor or somewhere in between. Covid has exacerbated the crises along with many other issues we face today. There are many reasons people are finding themselves in a precarious mental state. Yet, that doesn’t mean there are not a multitude of ways to enhance their state-of-mind.
Mental Health and Well-Being
The TLG team decided to make mental health the August newsletter focus since it’s central to our work. I will say upfront, I am not an expert in this area. We do have a number of Ph.D. Psychologists who are deeply connected to the issue of mental health and what’s been termed “positive psychology”. Peterson, in 2008, described positive psychology as “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living”. I don’t know anyone that’s happy all of the time. Yet I will suggest that everyone’s goal is to experience happiness, inspiration, joy, and love as frequently as possible. The good news is most everyone can improve their happiness to not-so-happy ratios.
Amongst the multitude of factors that affect one’s mental health and well-being, I am focusing the remainder of this article on one area where I have seen the impact firsthand: How people approach their work.
Amy Wrzesniewski is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management. She has done a great deal of work on the mental health impacts related to how people are oriented to their jobs. She breaks down how a person thinks about their work into three main areas: it’s a job, it’s a career, and it’s a calling.
Wrzesniewski goes on to define the three orientations:
It’s a job
People see it as a means to an end. They get a check so they can do other things they want to do with the money. This can include family and hobbies. They don’t let the job get in the way of the things that matter to them. It’s just a necessity of life.
It’s a career
There is a relationship between career and success and prestige. Upward mobility could be important to them. Getting a raise, new titles, and achieving social status can matter too.
It’s a Calling
The work is an important part of their identity. It’s not a means to an end but it’s their form of self-expression and fulfillment. People that fall into this category are generally more satisfied with their lives.
At this juncture, you might be thinking that people in certain positions like doctors, nurses, and not-for-profit employees will more likely fall into the “it’s a calling” category. Wrzesniewski’s research doesn’t find that. She points out that most every position has a fairly equal split between the 3 categories. A doctor can fall into the “it’s a job” category and a painter can fall into “it’s a calling”.
Martin Luther King Jr. described it well when he said “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
If you concur that people inspired by their calling are generally more satisfied with not only their work but their life, it begs the question as to why more people, that have a choice, don’t pursue/construct their happiness. There was a young person that worked for me whose attitude and actions clearly landed him in the “it’s a job” category. One day he gave me his notice and told me that he wanted to work in another field. I could see his eyes light up and rather than hold him back I encouraged him to pursue his dreams. Some people, admittedly, are stuck. They need a paycheck. So, let’s give them a pass. But, for all the rest of us, I encourage you to find fulfillment in your work.
I have been one of the lucky ones because every position I have had has been fulfilling (excluding those jobs in high school like painting walls the require standing ladders on a hot roof that would stick every time I went to move the ladder). Yet, it’s been said that luck happens when “preparation meets opportunity”. Here’s hoping that everyone reading this is going to get lucky.