The subtitle of Working Out Loud is “For a better career and life.”But what is better, exactly? Better is not an objective measure according to someone else’s standards. It simply means improving your career and life in a way you care about, a way that’s meaningful for you.
The book describes two ways to improve your odds of feeling better about work. One way is to change your approach to your current job, increasing your sense of control, learning, and relatedness so you tap into your intrinsic motivation or drive. Another way is to build a network that gives you access to other jobs - a different role, boss, company, or kind of work - where it might be easier for you to tap into your drive.
Changing your approach to your current job
In a paper titled, “Crafting a job: revisioning employees as active crafters of their work,” researchers interviewed people in a wide range of jobs including engineers, nurses, and restaurant staff. They found that even people in highly prescribed jobs could make changes that would fundamentally alter their view of what they did.
Job crafting changes the meaning of the work by changing job tasks or relationships in ways that allow employees to reframe the purpose of the job and experience the work differently. Psychological meaningfulness of work results when people feel worthwhile and valuable at work. Thus, any actions that employees take to alter their jobs in ways that increase feelings of purpose are likely change the meaning of the work.
The nurse’s handbook, for example, might have very specific guidelines for how to do a certain procedure. But some nurses viewed themselves as patient advocates, taking extra time to inform and comfort patients and their families, and they felt better about their work as a result. The short-order cook who had to follow recipes felt better when he took extra steps to “create a product worthy of pride.” Computer engineers felt better when they offered help to colleagues.
While some people viewed their job as carrying out instructions, others proactively altered aspects of the job related to learning and how they interacted with people. Same jobs. Different approach. They crafted their jobs to tap into their own intrinsic motivators - competence, autonomy, and relatedness – and they felt better about work than those who didn’t.
Building a network that gives you access to other jobs
While you might be able to tap into your drive even in terrible conditions, it’s easier to do so in some environments than others. For example, some jobs might have more opportunities for learning or some companies might have a more nurturing, respectful culture. To increase your chances of moving to a better environment, you have to first discover those environments and then have some means of accessing them. The best way to do this is via other people.
In 1973, Mark Granovetter analyzed the flow of information through social networks, and “The Strength of Weak Ties” went on to become the most-cited paper in all of social science. The title was based on his assertion that people to whom we are weakly tied have different information than we normally receive because they move in different circles than our close ties. That information can be critical to us, and the example he used was finding jobs. He cited a range of studies showing that people find out about jobs through personal contacts more than any other method. Then he conducted a study of his own and found that information that led to people finding new jobs came via people they barely knew or via the contacts of those people. Though close friends and family might be more motivated to help you find a job, being able to access different information from weak ties was much more important. He noted how luck played a role in interacting with weak ties.
Chance meetings or mutual friends operated to reactivate such ties. It is remarkable that people receive crucial information from individuals whose very existence they have forgotten.
More than 33 years before Facebook was launched, Granovetter showed that having a larger, more diverse social network would improve your luck, increasing your knowledge about a broader set of possibilities and enhancing your ability to access them.
Making your own luck
Most people I speak with understand that building a certain kind of network can give themselves access to a much wider range of choices. They may even realize they can change their approach to their current job and feel better about it. But few people know how to change their approach or build their network, and so they leave their career and life to chance.
You can do better, and that’s why I wrote the book. I found that even a bad day at work can be transformed when I apply the elements of working out loud. The feeling of greater control, confidence, and connectedness, makes me feel better. In addition to that is the joy I get from discovering new people, ideas, and possibilities.
Once you experience what better means for you, it’s difficult to return to your old approach. As one person told me, “I could never go back.”