The Shape Of Work Is Up To You

jonasaltman
Written by
- 6 min read

There is no shortcut to achieving eudaimonia. Loosely translated as human flourishing, eudaimon is all about living in good spirits. It can focus on achieving your unique potential, but also entails persevering in the face of challenge. And in the world of our work, it’s apparent we need to be increasingly flexible in the approaches we take. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to shape my work so that it’s become a source of energy and joy.

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Allow me to share three principles that guide me. May they help you set sail towards a place or space of work bliss.

Experience, Reframe, and Grow

Do you, from time to time, daydream of being a food critic or nature photographer, or something else? Whatever our fantasy, our own story of a place in the world is inherently skewed by how we choose to see things. We’re influenced by social cues, professional standards, a tireless media and, perhaps most of all, our inner voices.

The ability to express ourselves through work has never been greater. Work has progressed from being a way to survive to include a wellspring of meaning. And if you don’t like the story you’re creating about your work, try flipping the script.

This is called career shaping, and inspired by the research of The Centre for Positive Organizations. The trick is to do work that matters to you while searching for better ways to stretch yourself. This requires pulling from your own and others' experience, and continuously learning from it.

The future of your work can be a classroom where you're always growing to be better. For too long I was drained by my work - wearing my busy-ness badge with pride. It was only after burnout that I finally saw I had a choice.

It’s taken me half my life to get here, but I now believe that my work matters. And it’s easy to stay happily engaged in what I do. It’s an integral part of my identity.

Ultimately, we decide how we feel about work. The possibilities, the sorrows, the joys are in so many ways psychological. To ease the disengagement crisis, we need to start with ourselves.

Understanding how we renew ourselves in work requires constant reframing of what we do, why, and how to do so with more gumption. If this sounds like a lot of work, it is.

Trust Only in Leaders Who Care

Bad managers can be a real drag. In fact, shitty bosses are the biggest destroyers of meaning at work. Couple them with disenchanted colleagues and their moaning and we have one helluva team.

A big challenge is that managers tend to rise to their level of incompetence. Known as the ‘Peter Principle’, this leads to much of the dysfunction in our institutions. Flocks of workers flee spirit-sapping offices not only because they dislike incompetent bosses, but also because they can’t wait to start doing their best work.

Good leaders can go unnoticed, but it’s hard to ignore those who suck a sense of purpose from their staff. The difference between deflated and motivated employees can be boiled down to two styles of leadership: hoarding control or giving it away.

The choice remains clear: find a job with a boss you believe in, work for a manager-less company, or strike out and become your own CEO.

Whatever your choice, without the agency to control your work, feelings of progress and meaning remain illusory. The good news is that higher discretion given to employees in recent years is a promising sign that change is on the horizon.

Works in Progress and Practice of Work

Reinventing your work to be fully engaged won’t happen overnight. It involves patience and persistence, and the way you progress is through small wins. I like seeing work as a practice - something that evolves as we do. Since humans can be irrational and fallible, developing future organizations means we need to address the fact that there’s always work to be done on how we work.

We work for intrinsic and instrumental rewards. But internal motivations have the greatest impact on performance and progress. As we aim to be better individuals, we also shape work to make it better for everyone.

When you’re truly engaged, instead of saying ‘I have to go to work’, you say ‘I get to go to work.’ Your family, friends, and colleagues will notice this change in attitude.

Operating from this place of purpose has a glowing butterfly effect. The inner smirk manifests as an outer beam. Envious onlookers want some of what you’re having.

There are many obstacles to becoming a successful career shaper, turning work into a source of delight, and the job you have (nasty boss and all), into one you love.

Necessity is the mother of invention and continually working on your work is the hack. The degree to which you shape your work and yourself is something only you control.

Businesses cannot innovate if everyone within it remains static. This is why career shaping will continue to be invaluable. After all, it's through tiny gains, and the commitment to continuously learn and improve, that one sets sail towards this sacred destination.

The only question remaining is whether you’ll show up and do the damn work.


This is a guest blog by Jonas Altman, founder of design practice Social Fabric, co-creator of the Shape of Work program, and author of the best seller SHAPERS: Reinvent the Way You Work and Change the Future. For more information on Jonas and his activities, check out his rebel page.

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