A wise old man living in the Himalayas once said there are three types of work. The first is bad, and only has a negative effect on the world and the people. The second is neutral, and does no harm, but has no impact for good either. The third is positive, and is a force for good in the world, helping society or the world in some way.
Ok, it was my friend’s dad, and he said it about two days ago. He does live in the Himalayas though, and is clearly wise. I’m not so sure about old; he can’t be much older than me. Although a wise middle aged man living in the Himalayas doesn’t quite have the same ring about it.
I love this though. I’ve talked much about meaningful work, and finding the red threads in what you do. But this puts another perspective on it.
Let me ask you, which type of work do you do?
Are you in a corporate role, creating consumer goods no one needs? Or worse, things like cigarettes, or maybe unhealthy food that you feel isn’t a good thing. Or in promoting gambling? It’s subjective, of course. For many of these things, we could argue that they aren’t all bad – unhealthy food is good for an infrequent treat. Who doesn’t love cake, or ice cream, or chocolate, now and again? Or a drink? Or a flutter on the Grand National? But then there are those who become addicted, or promote them to children and get them hooked into bad habits. If you are involved in work in a field like this, and you feel it’s intrinsically bad, then yes, you should quit. If you can’t find a purpose in the work that meets your values, then you are selling your soul. Leave as soon as you can.
A neutral job
But my job is to persuade you that your job isn’t that bad, so let’s look at some neutral ones. Even that is subjective. The friend I was talking to – let’s call her Suki – said her job fell into the neutral category, and she wanted something that has a positive effect on the world. Her job though, is in the leisure industry, and she provides a service to young people where they can take part in a fun event with their friends. I’d call that more than neutral. I think that has a positive effect on the world. It’s not doing any harm, and it’s enabling people to enjoy themselves. Yes, it’s a business making a profit, but it’s not ripping people off or conning them out of money, it’s providing a service for a fee. Suki wants more and wants to work somewhere that is helping people more directly than just having fun, and that’s fine. But she shouldn’t downplay the role she has now.
It’s easier to see the value in charitable work, in education, health or social care, in teaching. But just because you’re in a business that makes a profit, that doesn’t mean it has no social or environmental impact on the world. I don’t want to get into the whole capitalism argument, and there is much going on currently that I personally abhor. But the profit motive doesn’t automatically mean something is negative.
So should you quit?
So I’ll ask again, what type of work do you do, and should you quit your job?
If you have job with a positive effect on the world, I’d say don’t quit. You might want to quit if the work culture is rubbish or you don’t have a good manager. They say people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. But before you do, there are things you can try to learn to fall back in love with work. Try these seven things you can do to feel happier. You might also want to quit if you’re bored. But if that’s the only problem try this red threads exercise to discover what you love.
If you’re in a neutral job, that might be enough for you. We all have different wants and needs from our work. Advice is the same as above. With the added suggestion that you think differently about the purpose of your work. If, like Suki, you work somewhere you consider neutral, consider whether you bring joy and happiness, or even something that makes life easier in some way for someone, maybe it’s not so neutral after all. Focus on that.
If you’re in job that you consider has a negative effect on the world, then yes, I’d be looking for something with more purpose. Obviously just quitting isn’t a sensible option for most people most of the time. I can’t tell you what to do of course, and we all have different things to consider. If you have personal circumstances that mean you can’t, if your purpose is to provide for your family, then focus on that. It’s an important purpose. But maybe think about what you can change in the future, and start planning for more meaningful work as your next step. What would be a positive work situation for you, and can you work towards that?
I kinda wanted to do a flow chart thingy, but it’s beyond my technological skills Feel free to let me know what you think of this concept, and how it plays out for you, in the comments below.
Lindsay is the owner of Silvern Training. Before that she had a very varied working life, doing everything from admin, volunteering, sales, teaching, training, fundraising, management and chairing a board of charity trustees. Now wants to change the world of work by improving workplace cultures so that people can look forward to Monday mornings. Also likes to support individuals to speak up, be better listeners and to take action.