Today is May 1. More than 80 countries across the globe celebrate 1 May as International Workers' Day or Labor Day. This May Day, I have been thinking about meaning in work.
The genesis of May Day or International Labor Day is in the 19th century when post the industrial revolution, trade unions, and labor movements grew. A variety of days were chosen by various trade unions as a day to celebrate labor including the current first Monday of September as is done in the US today. 1 May was chosen to be International Workers' Day to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago.
While over the years, from Industry 1.0 to Industry 4.0, the type of labor we do has been ever-evolving, the plight of laborers has seldom changed. From a factory worker of the 1700s to a software engineer of the 20th century, the phenomenon is largely the same. Millions of people toiling day in and day out to make a handful of individuals enjoy the fruits of their labor. The disgruntled laborer is forever trying to make the two ends meet and is on an endless journey of chasing happiness.
A vast majority of workers are actually unhappy because they are unsure of the meaning of their work. A simple anecdote will illustrate this. A tourist once visited Milan and saw a bunch of workers working hard in the scorching heat. He asked them what they were doing. The first person replied, “I am laying bricks”. The second person replied, “I am building a wall”. The third person said, “I am building a cathedral to help people pray”. All three were doing exactly the same activity yet they all had a different answer to the same question. Why?
The difference lies in knowing the difference between Vocation, Purpose, and Calling. The first man probably knew his vocation which was to lay the brick. The second person knew the purpose of laying the bricks which was to build the wall. And the last person not only knew that his vocation of laying the bricks would meet the purpose of building the wall for the cathedral but also knew why he was doing it! He knew his calling. Which one of these do you think was the happiest doing exactly the same thing?
In one of my previous articles, I have discussed Why, What and How in the context of duty. The first man knew how he was laying the bricks, the second man knew what he was laying the bricks for and finally, the last man knew why he was laying the bricks.
Illustration From: http://gyanalogy.com/what-is-your-duty/
This brings me to the beautiful Japanese concept of Ikiagai
Ikigai is using your skills to solve a world problem in the area of your passion such that people are willing to pay money for it.
And that my friends is the secret sauce of finding meaning in the labor we do as workers. So what is your Ikigai?