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Really, Is It Possible to Find Both Purpose and Joy In Your Job?

June 6, 2011

Everyone knows I love a good matrix.

As a former/recovering consultant, I am convinced that the secrets of the entire universe can be explained by a chart with four quadrants.

No, but really. By and large, the matrix framework has proven to be a simple and elegant method to frame out a perspective of the world by getting to the essence of things. (Just ask Boston Consulting Group.)

That being said, one of the foundational points of reference we used at the Leadership & Spirituality Summit last month was – can you guess? A matrix! This particular version was adapted (and by that I mean, “ripped off”) from an original version developed by the world famous executive coach to Fortune 500 CEOs, Marshall Goldsmith in his book, Mojo. But we tweaked it a bit to reflect a more spiritual aspect of things. Or, as former American Idol judge Paula Abdul would say, “…To make it our own.”

Not that I think Marshall would mind, so long as we give him credit and all. But you and I both know darn well that he’ll never know about this since he is flitting about in the Fortune 500 CEO stratosphere while we are merely scrounging around here in the dim alleys of a tertiary regional middle market. Plus my blog only gets, like, 100 visits a day.  

So back to the matrix – Here is the premise:

To be spiritually engaged in your work generally requires two things:

(1) You must find long-term meaning and purpose in the work that you do, or the role that you are in; and,

(2) you also must find joyful engagement in your every day activities, tasks and relationships.

Long-term purpose, and joyful engagement. These are, of course, two completely different levels of experience. It is one thing to extract some kind of long-term meaning from your job, believing that the work you are doing has a lasting impact on the world. But it is quite another to consider if you like what you do every day.

The bottom line is that we will be most effective as leaders if we create both – to have significance and satisfaction in our working lives.

The question is whether you are intentionally moving towards that end, or just living off the inertia of what happened yesterday.

So, here is the matrix.

The vertical line represents the extent to which you find long-term meaning and purpose in your work, and the horizontal axis represents the extent to which you find joy in what you do every day.

Now, let’s talk through the four quadrants. At any point in time, we are “living” in one of these modes, reflecting the ongoing tension of trying to balance our career lives.

Surviving. On the lower left is the situation when you are low in meaning and low in engagement. The technical term this is, “It Sucks.” You are in survival mode. Which is not a very good place to be. In this case you must ask, are you in the right job? Do you have the right attitude, the right spirit?  How can God reveal a higher pathway through this situation?

Sacrificing. On the upper left, one finds a high score for purpose and meaning, but not much enjoyment. Think of Mother Theresa, who for most of her years of service felt no joyful connection to God. Or, you may have taken a job that is a stepping stone to something better – it may build your career and get you where you want to be for the long term, but is not that satisfying for the moment.

Stimulating describes someone high on joyful engagement, but low on long-term meaning. Maybe you enjoy what you do, but feel like you’re not making a difference in the long term, or you are not having much of an impact. Or it’s like spiritual cotton candy, enjoyable for the moment, but without much spiritual depth or awareness of the greater good that you could be doing.

Succeeding. Here is where we would all like to be – the place where we are joyfully engaging in our work each day, while tuned in to the greater benefit we are creating for the world around us. Here is where one’s talents and gifts are aligned with the job they are doing. Here is when you are in your groove, transcending the daily activities and flowing with the Spirit to accomplish the greater good.

What we all want is to spend more time “succeeding”. If you can find greater purpose in your leadership role and extract joyful engagement while you are doing it, you will be not only helping yourself, but others around you.

So where are you on this matrix?

What are you going to do about it?

Photo by nance. Used with a fishy permish.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2011 6:41 am

    You’re definitely onto something here. I don’t really understand the “matrix,” but conceptually, I totally agree about the two things that are so important to being spiritually engaged in my work. Every day I find them to be more true.

    • June 7, 2011 5:06 am

      Kelly, the matrix simply refers to those graphic charts with two axes and four quadrants. You can apply it to almost anything with two variables, and qualifying as low or high. It puts you into one of the four boxes.

      I think you got it, though.

  2. June 6, 2011 8:09 am

    I’m blessed with a four of a job.

    But I have days, when like a superball, I zing around through all four points of this matrix.

    • June 7, 2011 5:08 am

      Yes, when we were discussing this at the Summit, many people talked about how they move through those four quadrants depending on the cirumstances and their attitude at the time. Our point, though, was that being intentional with spiritual and practical means allows us to spend more time in that fourth quadrant instead of being pushed back all the time into the others.

  3. June 6, 2011 1:05 pm

    my main purpose is to be with God.
    i would like to put my job under this, because i haven’t done this for a long time.
    my attitude has been very poor because of this, i think.
    perhaps it would be interesting to put each thing that i do onto the matrix, but, then
    after that, i think i would have to think of all that i do as being done within my purpose.

    i think that i live off of already existing human inertia that revolves around me and not
    enough of spiritual and creative awareness of change and the adventure of the life that
    can be lived “with” God leading me through the meaning of my life within the living it out.
    As God shows me the life within the living. The garden with me as i live in the wilderness.

    A job is not my purpose, it is something that can be done within the purpose being lived.

    • June 7, 2011 5:11 am

      Beautiful context, Nance. Especially the garden within the wilderness.

      I think you are essentially saying the same thing we ended up talking about – it’s more to do with our own state of spiritual “being” than what is going on around us. We must be grounded and centered in God, able to access God’s spirit, and then we generally will become better and more effective leaders, with more clarity on what to do with the practical side of things.

      • June 9, 2011 11:21 am

        it is my place that i sometimes let consume me, but, i know this has a lot to do with my attitude.

        yes, i am in box number two much of the time.
        i think that has to do with depression issues.

        the realization and transcending and creativity
        that comes from seeing the adventure of life in the Spirit………

        perhaps i need to accept the gift more often.

  4. June 7, 2011 12:19 pm

    Thanks for sharing this tool.

    I love using matrix too! One of my favorite is “The four-quadrant matrix for importance and urgency” from Stephen Covey’s books “First Things First”and “7 habits of Highly Effective People”. I see a perfect match with yours as we all want to spend most of our time in quadrant 4.

    Nothing happens if you don’t plan for it. I don’t believe in luck or destiny, eventually in serendipity but definitively in making the right informed choices. In order to spend most of your time in meaningful and enjoyable activities, you need first a vision and a purpose of life : who do you want to be, what do you want to do ? with whom? where ? When ?

    Visualization is a powerful exercise and I am always surprised to discover that 90% of what I saw and planned actually happens.

    Sorry to say here that I don’t believe in God but I believe in the power of the human mind.

    • June 8, 2011 4:57 am

      Anne, I have had the same experience with visualization exercises. It’s true, 90% of what you write down and dream up for yourself actually comes to pass, because it causes you to intentionally go after it. Sometimes it’s even subconsious, I think.

      THis whole exercise we did here was on the premise of “intentionality” so you are right on point with us!

  5. June 7, 2011 8:38 pm

    Ok, I too love a good matrix. No surprise. But I just saw a matrix with billable hours and collections/realization, so my brain is a little fuzzy. But I think you are on to something.

    Why isn’t sacrifice in the far right corner? Isn’t that the end all be all?

    BTW – I think I am in quad 3 — whatever that is. In fact, I think I am a bit overstimulated (in a middle of a jury trial this week) but loving every minute of it.

    • June 8, 2011 5:00 am

      Go for it, Susan. Make a killing! It’s important to be in that “stimulating” box periodically. But I wonder if you are actually in truth serving a greater purpose while you are at it — perhaps the greater good of the client you are representing? Sometimes it’s changing perspective of what we think is “significant” work. All work that we do can be used to reveal the greater good or God’s creative expression in the world around us. We have to connect to that, though.

  6. June 9, 2011 8:17 am

    I’m in a position that I *want* to love and make a career out of. It’s a good job that makes a difference. It’s meaningful and I have a passion for what I do. But, the technicalities of it bog me down. My desk is a complete disarray (which isn’t me), and I’m floundering in the actual tactical stuff. I’d rather make a difference the majority of the time and not get bogged down, though I know every job probably has those aspects attached. I feel bad because I’m good at what I do and I do have passion for it. But again, I wonder at whether it’s the right fit for my strengths – those things that give me energy.

    There’s another position that is a bit scary to think about because I’m not sure of the long-term implication on my career, though I do know it’ll be good in so many ways – I just don’t know what will be *next* and I want to know.

    I’m writing a lot about the *now* and waiting on God, even though we may be prompted to do something different at some point. I am Seeing that the *waiting on God* part and seeking Him is what’s important right now. Goodness…so much to say on all of this, and you’ve really got me thinking…

  7. June 11, 2011 3:49 pm

    Surprise! I read your blog and love it,

  8. June 28, 2011 3:53 pm

    Well I guess I get to be one of your 100 hits for this page . . . A matrix is good, but it misses out on the ongoing 4th dimension of time and change.

    Are you familiar with Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (his name is pronounced (Mee-High Chicks-en-mee-high)? A nice man I met a number of years ago. He spent 20 years of his life trying to track down why people enjoy themselves. He called it engagement. Playing chess, brain surgery, painting, gaming, and a myriad of other activities could now be studied and related.

    Along the way he discovered a phenomenon that we’re all familiar with where time slows or speeds up because the engagement is so fine or of such a high quality. He called that experience “flow” and refered to it as the “optimal psychological experience.” In order to make it more understandable he created a two axis graph similar to a matrix but since it has to progress with time he opened up a channel through the center in which the flow could take place through time with an arrow at the top right to show it as an ongoing phenomenon. On the left one axis was about challenges and ran from low to high. Across the bottom he posited skills that also ran low to high.

    The results of his lifelong research say that if you can match the level of your skills with the level of challenge at hand, you will find engagement. But we don’t stand still. When it is no longer challenging, we seek higher challenges. For us to remain in the “flow channel” of total engagement, we must take on higher skills. Matching higher challenges with higher skills is Learning (which should always be fun and engaging, folks).

    If you match High Skills with Low Challenge you enter into a box called “Boredom.” (That’s right, the implication is that “boring” is inside you and not a quality you can affix to stuff that is out there.) If, on the other hand, you match Low Skills with High Challenge, you enter into a box called “Anxiety.”

    Our purpose in life, is to match ever higher challenges to an ever growing number and level of skills so that we move along within the flow channel finding life personally meaningful. I prefer putting a matrix on a chart more like this. Since I can’t paste an image here (I’m a guest), I will leave you with a link to an image that shows exactly what I’m talking about:

    I think the purpose of you whole blog could benefit from what this man had to offer. Hope you enjoy it.

    Pat Swigart

    P.S. I was a teacher but found that my life as one was becoming more and more one of sacrifice as the US government imposed its meaningless ideal of reading and math test scores upon good teachers and good kids thus seriously limiting the engagement and narrowing the curriculum. Please see Charlotte Iserbyt’s “Deliberate Dumbing Down of America.” I went from being a staunch supporter of public education (in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson) to being a real believer in home-schooling if you want to get the job done.

  9. June 30, 2011 5:16 am

    Hi Pat –
    Yes, I have read much about Mihaley’s work of “Flow” and read one of his books called “Good Business” where he applies these concepts to the workplace. Thanks for pointing this out (and the link!). The added dimensions of time and change are critical, and make for a much more dynamic framework.

  10. August 31, 2011 11:29 pm

    I love your adaptation – and I did read your blog!
    Keep up the great work!

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