Creativity is hard work because it involves exposing your deepest ideas and efforts to others, so why do we still do it? Because any other work would be unfulfilling and would leave us empty.
Sam Spurlin, at 99u.com, explains how the most satisfying work we do is that which allows us to work with dignity.
Dignity means associating your self-worth with the effort placed in your work. When we don’t work with dignity our work becomes “separate” from us, the person. To work with dignity is to take responsibility for its results, it is the pinnacle of what we can do as creative professionals in a complex, shifting, and interdependent world. It helps us cut through the overwhelming cacophony of the world that’s telling us what we should care about and where we should direct our attention.
Work without dignity threatens to alienate us from ourselves and leave us exhausted, bored, and unfulfilled with the work we do.
Working without dignity is to divorce our values from how we spend the majority of our waking hours. Work without dignity is shallow, timid, and forgettable. It sets us up for disappointment when a once-exciting job is no longer a sufficient proxy for a fulfilling personal identity.
For this reason, it’s important to work with not just the “what” in our mind—as in “what am I supposed to me doing?”—but with the “why,” as in “why does this work matter to me?” If we can’t answer the “why,” we need to reconsider what we’re doing.
Spurlin recommends three areas we can focus on to bring dignity back into our work.
The curious worker sees daily experience as an overwhelmingly rich trove of inspiration that can inform his or her work in unexpected ways…The researcher observes a fascinating phenomenon while standing in line at the supermarket, the teacher hears a turn of phrase that would perfectly illustrate a difficult idea for her students, and the manager reads a book about chaos theory and has an insight into how to better motivate his employees. In a world of overwhelming information, our own curiosity serves as the funnel and filter that keeps our work fresh and new.
Approaching work with dignity requires nothing less than the highest level of attention brought to every aspect of a project. Does this mean locking into a mindset of perfection-driven procrastination? No. It means taking seriously the old adage, “You are who you are when nobody is watching.”
The moment success in the past is allowed to bleed into the future—that future success is guaranteed by past success—is when a lack of humility most often shows its face. Every day is an opportunity to find a better, more efficient, or more interesting way to do something we thought we already understood perfectly.