Why we should embrace the privilege of work

Businessman talking on the phone in the office.

Do you dream of retiring?

Do you fantasise about the day when you don’t need to work any more?

On the Labour Day that just passed, I saw Facebook status updates that said something like this: “The best thing about Labour Day is that I don’t need to labour” or “My bed laboured very hard today because I spent so much time sleeping”.

I'm guessing your friends expressed similar sentiments?

The many, many, many hours we spend at work

We’re at work for eight or more hours a day, for at least five days a week, for up to 40 years.

In fact, you’ll probably spend more than 90,000 hours at work over the course of your lifetime. If that sounds like a lot of hours to you, it’s because it is!

Is work just about the money?

Besides the work I do with students, young adults and parents, I also work as a project engineer. As such, I spend more time working than the average person.

Please don’t get me wrong; work should never become an obsession. But since our work occupies such a large proportion of our waking hours, I think it’s important for us to periodically reflect on our jobs and careers.

Is work something we just have to do in order to put food on the table? Or is work significant beyond the monthly pay check we receive?

'My life is empty without work'

I recently overheard three of my colleagues talking about retirement.

“I would be so bored if I didn't have a job!” exclaimed one of them.

“I agree. After working for 40 years, it would be so weird to suddenly wake up every morning and not have anything to do,” replied another.

“Come to think of it, my life would probably feel empty if I wasn’t working,” said the third.

Clearly, our jobs give us meaning in ways other than merely enabling us to pay the bills.

Three observations about work

Thinking about that conversation, I've come up with three observations about work:

1. There is no such thing as an ordinary job. There are only people who choose to perform them in ordinary ways.

That’s a quote from marketing expert, Harry Beckwith. It’s one that has profoundly impacted the way I view career.

If you’re an entry-level employee, your job is meaningful because of how you’re able to serve and contribute today. Your job doesn't suddenly become meaningful when, one day in the future, you get promoted to manager or CEO.

There’s inherent value in the work we do, so let’s do it with a spirit of excellence.

Another wonderful quote (this one by Martin Luther King, Jr): “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo 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.’”

2. Work adds meaning to our lives by enabling us to contribute.

It’s hard to find another avenue that will allow you to contribute in such a tangible way on a daily basis.

Your work might involve…

  • Building roads
  • Ensuring the safety of the country
  • Educating children
  • Caring for the elderly
  • Designing products
  • Constructing buildings
  • Transporting passengers
  • Entertaining audiences
  • Providing services
  • Investing resources

The list goes on and on. Every one of these jobs is essential to our country’s growth, happiness and success.

No matter what industry you’re in, remind yourself of the precious contribution you make every day at work.

3. Work helps us to develop and grow.

Every task, assignment or project you take on helps you to become a person of greater character and skill.

Through facing challenges at work, you’ll become more courageous, committed, disciplined and determined. You’ll learn to complain less and become more understanding.

In terms of skill development, you might learn how to manage people, communicate effectively, organise events, think critically, make wise decisions, and more.

We learn best by doing, and “doing” is what work is all about.

It’s vital that you continually improve, because the first step toward building a better career, family, healthcare system, education system, economy, government or country is to build a better you.

Work, when done with the right attitude, enables you to build a better world by building a better you.

In closing…

Work can sometimes be tiring and frustrating, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to learn, grow and contribute.

Let’s enjoy and embrace this privilege.

Let’s go out there and do some great work.

Daniel Wong is a learning and personal development expert, as well as a certified youth counselor. A sought-after speaker and coach, he is also the best-selling author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He offers programmes to help students attain exam excellence while also finding happiness and fulfillment, and to empower parents to motivate their unmotivated teenagers. He writes regularly at www.daniel-wong.com. Download his FREE e-books, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?" and "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision". The views expressed are his own.