Recently, I’ve come across many (many!) articles appearing on various web properties with the simple goal of helping the reader be a better person. It’s the beginning of a new year, so I was bound to find articles on losing weight, finding love, and dressing for success. But these newly discovered articles all come from reputable and intellectually sharp sources and attempt to challenge our thoughts on productivity and on our contributions to the economy and society.
Here’s a sample…
- Wired: Everything You Thought You Knew About Learning Is Wrong
- Harvard Business Review: Create a Meaningful Life Through Meaningful Work
- Inc.: How to Be Happy at Work
This trend became more apparent to me as I watched an interview with the New York Times’ Shanghai Bureau Chief; he posited that China’s economy was in a better position to grow because its citizens are wholly focused on the single purpose of productivity. Conversely, he suggested that the American economy was struggling because our citizens are focused things other than productivity — perhaps on the newest restaurant to open, the next decadent vacation, or what our plans are for this weekend. Note that he wasn’t saying we are lazy, just that our priorities have shifted. For at least four years, we’ve all been asked to do more, to work harder and longer than every before, and to help our employer survive through the worst economy since the Great Depression. We’ve done as much as we can seemingly do, and/or we aren’t willing to do more.
It was a short interview, and I can’t claim to know his entire line of thinking on this subject, but my opinion goes like this: we need to work smarter, not harder; we need to choose different work, not do more of something we don’t enjoy; we need to enjoy life, but also be fulfilled by what we do to earn a living; we need to contribute to the economy, not just the rumor mill.
As I said in an earlier post, I’m making 2012 a year of service. That also means making it a year of self-improvement.