Men at Work: The changing relationship between men and their work.

by Apr 7, 2017Professional Life

In a previous career of mine, a work colleague described what his influential and high paying job meant to him.

He said, “Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my job. I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years and I’m extremely grateful of what it has provided. But, it’s not my true passion.”

I was somewhat surprised by his comment. Here was an accomplished leader and businessman, who was highly respected as one of the best in his field saying that he felt ‘OK’ about his job. This guy knew his stuff, he knew people, he was respected, he was a shaker and a mover.

He elaborated, “What this job provides me is the opportunity to get up early each morning and walk out from my house onto the beach and go for a surf. It also provides me with the means to go anywhere in the world on a yearly surfing trip with my son. That’s why I’ve worked so hard, for as long as I have. That’s why I honestly do what I do”.

He continued to say that it really didn’t matter what job he did, as long as it provided him with the means to achieve the things that were really important to him. To him, his identity as a man and as a father did not hinge on what his job was, or the direction of his career path.

His comments have stuck with me for all these years. It offered a new and very refreshing perspective towards the relationship between men and their work. It highlighted for me, that as important as men view their work, there is a lot of value in recognizing that a man’s job can be a valuable part of their masculine identity; without it being their entire identity. That men have options on how they view themselves, without placing all their eggs in one basket.

A common theme described by men is the significant amount of personal meaning that they derive from their work. “Men traditionally derive a huge amount of self-esteem and gender identity, and personal happiness from their work, even more so than other environments such as their home life or social interactions” (Galinsky, 2011). However, the idea of extending their identity beyond their job, has the potential to offer an enormous amount of relief for men.

Think about the last time you met someone new for the first time. What was the first question that you ask, or were asked?

“So, tell me, what do you do…”?

This is one of those all too common, but loaded questions we ask in social environments. Asking this question satisfies our need for social comparison, but more importantly, our reply allows us to reinforce our identity – if we associate ourselves with the work we do. However, the traditional narrative of a man’s identity being tied up in their job is changing. Not unlike my own discovery while talking to my colleague, a lot of men are asking the question, ‘is there more to me than what I do as a job?’

The author, Alain de Botton, stated that “we spend most of our waking lives at work – in occupations most often chosen by our inexperienced younger selves. And yet we rarely ask ourselves how we got there or what our jobs mean to us”. His book, ‘The pleasures and sorrows of work’ explores why people do what they do. How many men, find enjoyment in their work, but often have no idea how on earth they got there?

There are a lot of men that derive tremendous happiness and satisfaction from their work. The sense of purpose, challenge, the ability to provide, a sense of inclusion and belonging and structure, not to mention the creation of bonds with other men. These are all important elements that contribute to a sense of masculinity and self.

Yet, men are now starting to realize this redefined sense of self in other ways. What they are discovering is a masculine identity that is equally enriched beyond their current thoughts of what work means to them. For example, the number of men who are changing the balance between workforce and family roles or discovering meaning and purpose in life via alternate pursuits or interests.

It is absolutely realistic for a man to question the narrative of ‘a job maketh a man’. In exploring new and exciting ingredients in life, a man can rewrite his story that contains greater meaning and depth. A man’s job is simply one of many amazing elements of who he is – and who he can be.

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