BY GERRY CHIDIAC
Lessons in Learning
A recent study shows that 47 per cent of Canadians are unhappy in their jobs. Many cite lack of pay as the reason for their feelings, but it is not the only factor. Many find the work environment difficult, or that the work lacks meaning.
Of course, leaving a job is not necessarily a good thing. It can take a significant amount of time to make a positive impact, no matter what one is doing. It also takes a great deal of introspection and self-awareness to be able to determine where one fits in the world of work.
Unless the work is completely unethical, we can make almost any job meaningful. It is ultimately up to us. The key is to have a mission in life, to know our purpose. For example, when I worked summers as a pool cleaner during my university years, I found the job much more enjoyable when I knew I was offering the best service possible. The work became testament to the person I am, and I was able to demonstrate that to both my customers and my employer.
Psychiatrist and witness to the horrors of Nazi work camps, Viktor Frankl, tells us, “we do not invent our mission; we detect it.” In other words, there is something deep within us that calls us to our purpose. This moves us from simply “doing a job” to living out our vocation or our mission in life.
A statement attributed to Mohandas Gandhi tells us to, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Pondering this statement, we need to first ask ourselves what kind of world we want to see. The answer to this question reveals our own inner values. Do we believe, for example, that peace, respect, love, joy and integrity are important? If so, the only way to make them more prevalent is to practice them in our own lives.
From there, we can ask ourselves how we can leave a legacy which reflects our values.
The challenge then becomes to decide how one can best leave a legacy, taking into account who we are as individuals. This goes beyond our talents, it is a question of finding what fills one’s soul. I have always been good at math, for example, but as an extrovert I would have found working in an accountant’s office torturous. I enjoyed being a pool cleaner, but I knew it would not fulfill my soul’s purpose.
Through a number of part-time jobs, I realized how much I enjoyed working with young people. I’ve always believed in equal opportunity, and looking back, I can see why I was drawn to public education. Being a teacher in a very heterogeneous high school clearly resonates with my desire to celebrate and draw out the giftedness in each person, regardless of their socio-economic background. Writing a newspaper column simply allows me to expand this reach beyond the confines of age and physical structure.
Perhaps the solution to our unhappiness at work is to define our purpose. According to the British Columbia Curriculum, a significant piece of career education today is to provide students the opportunity to experience their careers journeys in personally meaningful and goal oriented ways. It is thus important for students to explore their personalities, their interests, their learning styles, and to put together a mission statement which reflects what resonates for them.
Of course, our experience in high school does not define us for a lifetime. It is valuable for all of us to not just go through the motions of life and work, but to reflect on what we believe is important in life and the kind of people we wish to be. We never stop growing; our situations never stop changing. We are each our own greatest investment, and when our work reflects the people that we are, we find dignity and joy in our labour.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students. Check out his website here. Find him on Facebook. Or on Twitter @GerryChidiac