Work: Beyond Serving Self to Serving Others

By David Williamson.

This is the fifth of a series.

Much of Dik and Duffey”s book Make Your Job a Calling leads the reader to fulfill the title, starting out within the career discernment process. One of the ways in which this can happen is through “Serving Others,” the title of Chapter 5. Discovering how our job can in fact serve others can make a huge difference in how we approach our work, whatever work it is, and move us to experience it as a calling.

During the day, we spend more time and find our sense of well-being more through doing “work” than any other activity: 8.7 hours on average, compared with 7.7 hours sleeping, 1.3 hours caring for others, 1.1 hours eating, 1.1 hours doing household chores and 2.6 hours for leisure and sports. Work shapes our experience of well-being, purpose and meaning.

The book lists several ways to reflect on our work, to see the difference it makes to us and its usefulness in serving others. The authors say that acts of kindness can have a host of positive consequences for social relationships, and help you feel more connected to others in your community. This in turn leads the worker to feel part of something greater than oneself.

Doing something good for another can remind us of how “good” we have it, or how the recipient’s life is enhanced. This can lead to us to relieving feelings of guilt or shame, and cause us to reflect on our own good fortune. With this thought process, virtually any job can become a “calling.”

The direct product of the work, whatever that is, has some benefit to someone in the community. This can include the investors and other workers, as well as some final ultimate benefit to the recipient of the work itself. Thus, “if doing good is a good thing to do for others, and good for you, and if work is a good place to do good work, why not do good at work?”

“Virtually any person in any job in any place can either use the product or services that are provided.” Reflecting on those observations, and how my work contributes, helps the worker to shape his or her job into a calling. The authors conclude that “having the motivation to help others can lead people to perform better, to work more productively and commit more deeply to their jobs.” They use the experience of firefighter who found that if they found their work ultimately helping others, they were willing to work many more overtime hours compared to those who had low altruistic motivation.

I thought of my dad, the foundry-man metallurgist, whose job was dirty, hot and with minimum social respect. He thought of the farm machinery he was helping to forge, which enabled farmers to care for their farms more effectively, ultimately benefiting the consumers of the products of those farms, And he cared about the men who worked for him and their families. This may have helped my dad experience and express “calling” in his dirty and tough job. As a child, I experienced some modest pride when we passed a farm that had one of my dad’s machines working the land.

My dad could think about the consumer benefit in the products of the farm, or he could think of the economic benefit to those who worked for him in the foundry, or of the investors and managers of the factory, or all three. And, my dad could think about actively seeking opportunities to help others on the job, or though the job.

Dik and Duffey list ways to think about serving the common good at work: Choose a prosocial job, a job that has some socially beneficial objective, and whatever the job is, focus on its prosocial impact. The authors conclude this section by saying: “Living out a calling means focusing on others, which makes a sense of calling unique compared to other work motivations….Start helping others in and through your current job. Doing so may be the best and easiest way to start discovering and living a calling.”

A footnote is important here. This could lead a worker to over-extend. Workers need to take care of themselves while responding to the needs of others.

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