The Highlands Company Blog

Job Track to Joyride — Re-launching Your View of Work

How do you view work? Do you see it as a job track you’re stuck on until you reach retirement age or as a joyride that allows you to enjoy life at every stage?

As you ponder these questions, consider this: The typical American will invest between 80,000 and 100,000 hours at work during his or her lifetime. Your job will consume a higher percentage of your waking hours than anything else you do. Therefore, the way you view work matters. It affects the quality of your life, the quality of all the lives you touch, and the future generation’s view of work.

When You Find Joy in Your Job, Life Works

Unfortunately for many, work has become a four-letter word, and its reputation is getting worse every day. In his book, Becoming Who We Were Born to Be, Brian Souza writes, “We work twenty fewer hours a week than our great-grandparents did and enjoy three times as many leisure hours as they had. Yet today upwards of 80 percent of American workers list job stress as a major problem.”

Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton cite another alarming statistic in their book, How Full Is Your Bucket? “Our estimates suggest that there are more than 22 million workers – in the United States alone – who are extremely negative or actively disengaged.”

These trends lead to three important questions:

  1. Do you want to work in such a stressful, negative environment?
  2. How can we reverse the trend before it’s too late?
  3. Can we really expect to reverse the trend in our lifetime?

I found myself pondering these questions when I was presented with an opportunity to interview a dozen centenarians. I was amazed to learn that several of them were still working happily over 30 hours a week and viewing their jobs as the “fountain of youth.” What I found in my interviews is that these extraordinary individuals have much to teach us. They can help:

  • Relaunch our view of work.
  • Recalibrate the way we measure our performance.
  • Reassess the impact our work is having on the lives we touch.

Walt Disney once said, “Whenever I go on a ride, I’m always thinking of what’s wrong with the thing and how it can be improved.”

I invite you to ride alongside three of these amazing joyriders to discover a few ways to find more joy in your job.

Are You a Networker or a Net-Giver?

At one time, I was a networker. I worked to find ways for others to help me meet my career goals. If there’s anyone who typifies the opposite of a networker, it’s Fermin Montes De Oca, or Mr. De, as he is known to his many friends.

Mr. De was born in Tampa, Florida, in 1903. His parents were Cuban. His father hand-rolled cigars in the local factory. At the age of 8, Mr. De started shining shoes. He joyfully gave every cent he earned to his mother. “It gave me joy knowing I was helping her.”

Mr. De dreamed of becoming a doctor. But when he was 16, his family moved back to Havana, Cuba, and his father made him learn the cigar trade. He spent the next 39 years hand-rolling 500 cigars a day. He earned $15 a week when he started, and $25 a week by the time he rolled his last cigar.

Although he never realized his dream of caring for patients, he found other ways to touch lives. He became a selfless net-giver. For example, he regularly bagged up extra fruit from his backyard trees and hung them anonymously on his neighbors’ doorknobs. In 1998, Mr. De opened a general store inside the assisted-living center he now calls home. For the past 11 years, he has risen early to make popcorn and brew coffee – both complimentary treats for his patrons. Today, at age 106, he still works six hours a day “because people need me.” You should have seen the smile on his face when, without hesitation, he joyfully gave away the money earned from his day’s sales to the hospice workers.

As he led me into his modest room, I noticed four incredible paintings on his wall. “When did you buy those?” I asked. He responded, “I didn’t buy them, I painted 48 of them.” I anticipated the answer to my next question but asked it anyway – “Where are the rest?” His face lit up as he responded, “I gave them away.”

Winston Churchill is attributed with saying, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. De’s life has been enriched by being a net-giver of his time, talent, and treasure.

How Do You View What You Do?

Mildred Heath still works 30 hours a week at the Beacon Observer, a weekly Overton, Nebraska, newspaper she and her husband started back in 1938. Mildred holds the distinction of being named America’s Oldest Outstanding Worker for 2008 by Experience Works, a national organization providing employment training to older adults. What she taught me is that it doesn’t matter what you do for a living, it’s how you view what you do that makes all the difference.

When I asked her, “What’s your secret to uncovering great stories?” she replied, “I just love people.” I followed up by asking, “How do you still find joy in your job after 80 years?” Again, she responded, “I just love people.” I will admit that I’m a slow learner at times, but by the fifth time, Mildred said, “I just love people,” I finally realized that she didn’t see herself as a reporter. She saw herself as a conduit for linking generations of families together through her work – a historian if you will. The proof of her passion can be found at the local library where her life’s work is archived in a collection of over 4,000 weekly newspapers.

Will the Work You Do Today Withstand the Test of Time?

Have you ever thought about trying to measure the lasting value of the work you do? For many of us, this may seem like an impossible feat, but not for Joyrider #3, Matteo Summa.

Matteo was born in Italy in 1904. “Back in those days they only had a suit made for you on two occasions,” he chuckled, “when you got married or buried.”

Matteo remembers seeing his tiny suit and casket when he was four-years-old, battling a serious illness from which he wasn’t expected to recover. But after successfully cheating death, he moved to New York City at age 16 to pursue the American Dream. Like his father and three brothers, he was an expert mason.

When I motioned with my hand in a horizontal line to confirm, “So you laid bricks for a living,” he shook his head and gently corrected me. “Anybody can lay them in a straight line. I’m a cornerman.” Then he explained that the cornerman is responsible for constructing a stable foundation for a building to stand on.

As the oldest card-carrying member of the International Union of Bricklayers, this humble joyrider has left a lasting mark on his adopted country, having been the cornerman on the Empire State Building, the Waldorf Astoria, and the Holland Tunnel. Matteo also donated his time and talent to help build St. Rocco Church in Cleveland, Ohio, not knowing that, years later, his daughter would be married there. Matteo’s buildings clearly have withstood the test of time.

However, from my vantage point, his most impressive life’s work was captured in a single picture taken during his 100th birthday celebration. I had to study it closely to find the grand patriarch buried amidst a sea of humanity, all sharing his DNA.

Finding Joy in Your Job

Clearly, Mr. De, Mildred, and Matteo don’t consider work a four-letter word. If you are one of the many who finds yourself stuck on a job track instead of a joyride, I hope you’ll take the time to consider the 300+ years of wisdom these three joyriders have shared, namely:

  1. Avoid being a networker and instead, practice net-giving of your time, talent, and treasures;
  2. Focus less on your job and more on the difference your job can make to others; and
  3. Be a cornerman (or woman) by aligning your lifeline with those you serve in a way that will withstand the test of time.

How I Found Joy in My Job

Prior to joining Wells Real Estate Funds in 2003, I was a notorious job tracker; jumping from one employer to the next in search of my dream job. Although I had taken the Highlands Ability Battery (HAB) a few years earlier, I couldn’t muster the courage to align my natural abilities with my paycheck because my view of work was still distorted. Like millions of Americans, I viewed work as work, a job as a job, and was counting down the days to retirement. Looking back now, I clearly had settled for a job instead of pursuing a joyride — putting myself in a position that allowed me to do what I do best and enjoy doing most.

Despite achieving a progressive and financially successful career path I wasn’t using the Driving Abilities detected by the Highlands profile. Thus, I was unable to find lasting satisfaction in any of the 10 jobs I held during the first 16 years of my career. I know what you’re thinking — 10 jobs in 16 years? That’s pathetic. What a loser! — because I was thinking it, too. In fact, these thoughts motivated me to re-launch my career and align my paycheck with my natural abilities. I can honestly say I have found joy in my job and testify that: When you find joy in your job, life works.