Jason Sultana

Follow this space for writings (and ramblings) about interesting things related to software development.

Create your own meaning at work

27 Apr 2021 » career

G’day guys!

Have you ever heard of Dr Tim Sharp - AKA Dr Happy? He’s a clinical psychologist, academic, executive consultant and most recently the author of Habits for Happiness at Work, which is a 10-part series on Audible. It’s a great little series that covers a lot of issues that contribute towards being happy and content at your workplace, but I wanted to give my 2 cents on a certain issue that Dr Happy explored.

In one of his episodes, he said (paraphrased) that we as employees should align ourselves with the greater vision or mission of our organisation, no matter what role we fill. The canonical example that he gave was when the president of the United States visited NASA during the race to the moon, and happened to ask one of the cleaners what his job was. The cleaner replied, I’m helping put a man on the moon. The idea is that even somebody who might not be directly contributing to the cause of the company can still align themselves with the greater vision, and feel more happy at work by doing so. Another example of the importance of this greater goal is the company Patagonia. When they changed their mission statement from Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis to We’re in business to save our home planet, they supposedly trippled their profits, even though they cut their most profitable product line (at the time) in the process.

These are good examples of the power of having a powerful communal goal, but what about the rest of us? I’d suggest that by and large, the majority of organisations don’t have such an innovative, ground-breaking goal as to put a man on the moon, or such a humanitarian one as saving the planet. Does this mean that we should disregard our company mission altogether? Well, you could - though I suggest an alternative approach.

In my case (speaking sincerely here), I genuinely don’t draw any meaning from my own company’s mission. Paraphrased for privacy reasons, my organisation’s motto is We help our clients make more money. I don’t particularly care about my company’s clients making more money. Sure, I’d like to be making more money, and I genuinely wish other good people wealth and prosperity as well - so long as they obtain it in an ethical way. Moreso than making our users money though, I find more meaning in making contributions to my own team. My own motto (at work anyway) is to help create a better team, a better codebase and a better product.

  • At the team level, I want to be a source of information that’s friendly, approachable and digestible; I want to be a mentor for other developers so they can progress on their own journey; and I want to be someone my team lead can rely on to investigate issues and implement code when he’s preoccupied with other things.

  • At the codebase level, I want my contributions to leave the code more efficient, more manageable and easier to reason with than it was before. This desire comes from my love of the craft, and desire to improve a codebase, no matter what it is or what language it’s written in.

  • At the product level, I’d like to improve the product for the same reason that when I turn on the stove, I want to cook something that tastes delicious. At the end of the day, I want to feel satisfied with what I’ve produced.

These three avenues manifested likely will contribute to my organisation’s goal of helping our clients make more money. But it’s more the front-facing avenues of team, codebase and product that I derive meaning from and that motivate me. In other words, they are the meaning that I find in my work.

I guess the point that I’m trying to make here is that your company doesn’t need to be saving the planet or putting a man on Mars for you to have meaning at work. It may just be that you need to find that meaning for yourself. And I suspect that you may find it where you spend most of your time; with the people that you work with, and the things that you work on.

Anyway, what about you guys? Have you had an opportunity to create your own meaning in your own workplace? What did you come up with? Let me know in the comments!

Catch ya!