Steve Jobs was not known for his cuddliness. However, Nick Bilton discovered an important lesson upon hearing a story when Jobs was being a jerk to a waitress ("What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Being a Son and Father").
No matter what you do for a living, should you do the best work possible?
It's not about vocation, Bilton realized. He spent plenty of time in non-vocational work—waiter, hair washer, costumed cartoon animal.
And yet it wasn’t until my mother found out that she had terminal cancer in mid-March and was given a prognosis of only two weeks to live that I learned even if a job is just a job, you can still have a profound impact on someone else’s life. You just may not know it.
His mother's appetite dwindled, then disappeared; the end was nigh. But suddenly she asked for her favorite, shrimp. Bilton bolted to the nearest Thai restaurant to fetch his mother's dying request.
While I stood waiting for my mother’s shrimp, I watched all these people toiling away and I thought about what Mr. Jobs had said about the waitress from a few years earlier. Though his rudeness may have been uncalled-for, there was something to be said for the idea that we should do our best at whatever job we take on.
This should be the case, not because someone else expects it. Rather, as I want to teach my son, we should do it because our jobs, no matter how seemingly small, can have a profound effect on someone else’s life; we just don’t often get to see how we’re touching them.
Certainly, the men and women who worked at that little Thai restaurant in northern England didn’t know that when they went into work that evening, they would have the privilege of cooking someone’s last meal.
Shortly thereafter, Barry Schwartz's "Rethinking Work" presented this concept under more scientific parameters, complete with cited studies.
Though the custodians’ official job duties never even mentioned other human beings, many of them viewed their work as including doing whatever they could to comfort patients and their families and to assist the professional staff members with patient care. They would joke with patients, calm them down so that nurses could insert IVs, even dance for them. They would help family members of patients find their way around the hospital.
The custodians received no financial compensation for this “extra” work. But this aspect of the job, they said, was what got them out of bed every morning. “I enjoy entertaining the patients,” said one. “That’s what I enjoy the most.”
Finding meaning in what may be considered menial work is what makes life great.
These are just ... examples from a literature of cases demonstrating that when given the chance to make their work meaningful and engaging, employees jump at it, even if it means that they have to work harder.
Humans are not motivated by money alone. We are more likely to help if not offered financial compensation. Schwartz was arguing for a change in workplace policies that would make meaning part of the job, but Bilton shows how one can find the meaning, even if it isn't obvious.