5.01.2016

Why We Work

There are three personality types that explain why we work. Of course, we often combine a piece of each in our working careers, but in this age of early wealth-earners, and later working seniors, and a large single population, it can be incredibly helpful to understand why and how we work. No one really explains this to us, so we sort of pair up with another person who "has a good job" or we personally strive too "make money." But, there are glaring differences as we navigate through our professional lives.

Work ethic: It is virtually impossible to impart this value to another adult: I'm convinced. I have a friend with the most fierce work ethic I have ever seen. Knowing her for 30 years, I witnessed her work ethic as a waitress, in her 20's. Now an ER nurse in her 50's, her willingness to work extra shifts and holidays are just as serious today as they were when she was working for tips and refilling ketchup bottles for diners. She will go long hours without a bathroom or food break because "it's a hard job and there's always something to do." 
Income and job title do not motivate her. She simply believes that she should work hard, no matter what the task.  Maybe this was a result of her parenting: with a father, a Prisoner of War for 18 mos in the Korean War. I'm not sure, but the girl has a work ethic!

Work ethic folks are less concerned with success or productivity than simply getting the job done to your best ability. This is the origin of, "ask a busy person to get it done."
The person with this gold plated ethic may not actually achieve big status, or be personally driven, often making them less desirable in the courtship arena. e.g. accepting a lower than commensurate wage, because the pay off is less important than the job itself.

Drive: ‎Drive is the guy who MUST get to the end spot, ie Steve Jobs. Drive is often under appreciated in women, and in fact, overlooked and unrecognized by women themselves. In my generation, Madonna was the first female I had ever heard actually call out her own ambition, The Blond Ambition World Tour. 

"I want to be create. I must be somebody. I'm not there yet. It's not big enough. We can do more." All classically driven-oriented expressions towards some type of output, for a product, an outcome, or something recognizable that matched what was held in conception. This person is rarely satisfied and is laser-focused, e.g., at its extreme, loved ones might say "obsessed and never happy." The driver often leaves behind a trail of messy relationships on the path towards an outcome. This is the man or woman who "reinvents himself," after success has been achieved or financial stability in a particular field. They may have "made it" and "lost it" several times over. (Personally, I have always enjoyed dinner with the person who has lost a million much more than the guy who just made a million.)
Achievement: ‎Striving to be successful, a goal towards reaching an income bracket, or a level of responsibility, is achievement oriented thinking. The desire to "leave something behind" or "make a dent" is the impetus for achievement. Hoping to retire by 45 is the stated goal of achievement, "I have arrived." Achievement oriented people are the traditionally successful, with perseverance and intelligence, and a focus on feeling satisfied.
Once an achiever has achieved their goal, they will not need to revisit that level of productivity (been there, done, resting now). One can see how the less intense work ethic or drive enables this person to digest and refuel. e.g. Sales quota is hit, then he'll stop pushing for sales until the new month begins.

The driven fellow will reinvent himself if he does achieve goals and the person with a pulsating work ethic carries on regardless.

The varying personality styles matter in terms of lifestyle goals, intimate partner compatibility, business partnership, or making a long term commitment with a company or organization. 
Somewhere in these descriptive is the foreplay for our retirement dreams and those plans will mean different things to different people. ‎

Understanding what fueled our work choices and professional history may shed light on how we might anticipate the retirement years. For many people, men in particular, the retirement u-joint is horrifically challenging. Worst case scenarios of depression, marital conflict, abandoning a marriage, or suicide, should be given purposeful thought prior to that D-day. 

Among those over 65, suicide may be under-reported. Because of the stigma, “coroners will go to great lengths to call it something else,” said Patrick Arbore, founder and director of the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention in San Francisco. “If it’s an overdose, they can call it an accident.”

Older adults make up 12% of the US population, but account for 18% of all suicide deaths. This is an alarming statistic, as the elderly are the fastest growing segment of the population, making the issue of later-life suicide a major public health priority. 


But because of start-ups and a younger age of financial success, the issue of "what motivates you?" is just as important for the newly divorced 45 year old woman, in the stride of her career, meeting a retired 54 year old who has no umph left to make his bones. Yes, he has financial security, he has achieved personal status, but his days are roaming and restful. She is seeking someone to go out and be productive each day, whether it's docent at the museum or building a garden in the yard. 
For the newly retired driven,  lacking a direction, this would be fertile ground  for depression.

For the graying baby-boomer generation, this is a worthy discussion. I have a retired Naval surgeon friend, now aged 73. An unsolicited job offer has just landed in his lap. He has a brain full of information and the health to back it up. What shall he do? Depending on his personal temperament, he may or may not, be motivated to jump into a new chapter. Is he a life-longer learner? Does he feel that his expertise will be valued and should be shared? Is it too much work? 

"Grit may be essential. But it is not attractive."

The Role of Luck



May's Book Recommendation Leadership and Self-Deception