Who are you laboring for?

Career Opportunities podcast logoWho are you laboring for?
By Douglas E. Welch



This week began with the US celebration of the Labor Day holiday, celebrating the labor that keeps our economy and our nation moving forward. Labor Day “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” according the US Department of Labor web site, but I think it is much more important to think of our own personal labor, and the benefits it brings us. The true meaning of our labor can get lost among the interlinked needs of company, employee, business and individual.

Everyone works for someone else, this is always true. Whether you are a traditional employee or a freelancer, we sell our time, our knowledge and our skills to someone in return for money. Too often, though, we only consider the effects of our labor on our employer or customer. Instead, no matter what your work arrangement, you must also consider the effect of your work on yourself. How does your work effect not only your monetary well-being but also your mental, spiritual and medical well-being?

The value equation of work doesn’t move in one direction. Yes, you must provide value to the person who provides your paycheck or pays your invoices, but you also need to be gaining something other than money. I am very fond of saying that money should never be the sole reason for doing — or not doing — anything. There are countless reasons and needs that surround any work decision. To reduce it to a simple matter of dollars and cents is a disservice to both you and your employer. If your job isn’t valuable to you, in a number of ways, then it is a clear sign that you need to find a way to increase its value or find a job that provides that additional value.

So, what are the other valuable items you should be finding in your job? First, and most important, is knowledge. Your job should be challenging in a variety of ways. You should be learning new things about a wide variety of topics as often as you can. Sure, over the years some tasks will become almost automatic, but this stable environment should provide you opportunities to stretch your skills and knowledge. If you aren’t learning more each day, your value to your company can actually decrease over time. At its worst, you can become better and better at a task that is needed less and less. If you aren’t learning about new methods, new needs, new changes in your company — and your industry in general — you could find your job has disappeared out from under you.

Next, the new skills, experience and knowledge you gain each day must be transferable to another job, another company, another industry. Certain jobs can be so specific that the skills you have are only applicable to a very narrow band of industries. Sure, there will always be some specific skills, but if the majority of your work is taken up with these tasks, you might find it very hard to find your next job. You must take every opportunity to explore all aspects of your job and find those skills that serve not only your current position, but whatever future position you might desire.

These two valuable items, knowledge and transferable skills are the driving factors in a long and successful career. By pursuing them, you are preparing for the reality that a career is made of many jobs over many years, not one job with one company. You have to prepare yourself for the dissolution of any particular company, or even an entire industry. Your paycheck may cover your expenses and allow you to buy the items you want for your house and family now, but expanded knowledge and transferable skills are the added value of any job that allows you to build the career you deserve in the future.

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