Perhaps it's time to remind ourselves of the importance of our work.
“The way we spend our time defines who we are.” —Jonathan Estrin, TV producer and writer
Do you believe your work matters?
The average American will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime, which equates to approximately one-third of your years on the planet. So, if you believe Jonathan Estrin, the way you view your work impacts who you believe you are. And, while you may not believe your entire purpose is wrapped up in what you do for a living, there’s no doubt that when we believe what we do matters, we are more engaged, motivated and committed to our jobs.
In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink reveals that the three key ingredients for workplace engagement are mastery, autonomy and a strong sense of purpose, or “the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”
Research also shows that having a sense of purpose not only makes you feel good — it also can make you healthier. Consider the following:
A 2014 study published in the Lancet found that people over age 65 who had a higher personal sense of purpose and well-being were more likely to live longer. Research conducted at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago suggests a strong sense of purpose can protect the brain against cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke and brain tissue damage. And, no surprise, a strong sense of purpose seems to be correlated with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which impacts the
body’s ability to mitigate stress in myriad ways.
If you doubt or ever wonder whether what you do matters or truly makes a difference, recognize first that you are not alone. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 70 percent of Americans either hate or don’t feel fulfilled by their jobs.
Perhaps it’s time to remind ourselves about the importance of the work we do.
I candidly admit I may be a bit biased and overly passionate about this — after all, at my company GrowthPlay, we literally hand out bumper stickers that say “I [insert heart symbol] Lawyers.” But, consider something: Nothing important or critical in the world happens without a lawyer at the center of the action. And, despite how they sometimes behave, lawyers are in dire need of people who will champion their contributions, support their growth and call out what they are doing right.
Whether in business, government, education, religion or nonprofit work, lawyers are always integral, shaping conversations, influencing relationships, resolving disputes and shepherding outcomes.
So, even when we believe that the data clean-up we do in our CRM system doesn’t save lives, or that the proposal we’re writing may not stand a chance of helping the firm actually win the business (this time), or that the lawyer we’re coaching still talks too much and doesn’t listen enough, we can recognize how we show up for those we work with.
When we model for our lawyers our own integrity and care in our relationships with them, the way we pay attention to what is important to them even when its not the most convenient to our own needs and priorities, or when we point out how they contributed to success, it can very much have an impact on how those lawyers feel about their own work and those with whom they work, how they decide to behave in their next client conversation or how they see the greater possibility and potential for why their own work matters.
As we know all too well, lawyers are one of the most unhappy groups of professionals in the western world. The American Bar Association found in 2016 that 28 percent of lawyers experience mild or higher levels of depression, 19 percent experience anxiety, 23 percent experience chronic levels of stress and about 20 percent participants surveyed struggle with problematic drinking.
Treating our colleagues with care, empathy and integrity as a catalyst to bring more care, empathy and integrity into the legal profession really is a powerful purpose we all can get behind.
I am so proud of the work we do as professionals in a challenging industry that serves difficult clients in tough situations. As legal marketers, we may be working in circumstances where the credit and praise often goes to those with “Esq” behind their names. But I know there are true superheroes — people who are working in service to something much larger than themselves — in all of the people with “LMA” connected to what they do.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we can be grateful knowing that our work most definitely matters, and, to circle back to Jonathan Estrin’s words of wisdom, is helping us become the best version of who we are too.
Alycia Sutor has spent the last 20-plus years helping lawyers, executives and managers rethink how they approach business development, leadership, culture development and teaming challenges. As a Managing Director and Practice Leader at GrowthPlay, she is particularly passionate about helping individuals leverage their strengths and interests to improve how they work, lead and sell. Alycia works one-on-one and in groups to help people get clear on their purpose, passion and participation to achieve work results that matter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @Alycia_Akina.