When a person refers to “work” there are a number of connotations that come to mind.  Quite often the term “work” implies something slightly negative – a necessary evil.  In this light, we tend to think of associated words to explain the feelings we have towards work:  hard, demanding, stressful, required, tiring, limiting, etc.  Those who approach “work” in a more positive way may view it as fulfilling, rewarding, purposeful, dynamic, and even enjoyable.  It is interesting how the same word can have such different meanings to people.  The fact remains that work is part of life – whether viewed as simply necessary or sought after with great enthusiasm.

Henry Ford once said:

“There is joy in work.  There is no happiness except in the realization that we have accomplished something.”

His reference is to work as one of the keys to a full life; an approach that is contrary to some of the visions we promote of sore muscles, tired minds, disgruntled and mistreated employees, or angry workers who find little inspiration in what they do to earn a living.  Ironically, Henry Ford was the forefather of the factory assembly line that allowed our country to grow and provide manufactured goods at a price that the masses could afford.  This same assembly line would house workers who had plenty to gripe about when it came to what they did to earn a living.  However, the core of what this statement presents is quite accurate – we (humankind) are built to perform, to hone our skills, to apply those skills, to produce results, and to feel complete. 

There are limitless opportunities for all of us if we understand how to invest in aligning with those opportunities and bringing them to fruition.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

-Thomas Edison

Why is it that some look forward to each day and are ready to jump out of bed and attack the day with enthusiasm and commitment, prepared to give their best to the work they pursue and to constantly improve along the way?  Why is that others may view the day quite differently – a chore, something to dread, the source of pain and uncertainty, and work that is something to avoid at all costs?

At some level it may be that individuals in the latter category have simply not found the type of work that they were meant to engage in, or it could very well be that they fail to see just how important work of any type is to their wellbeing.

Martin Luther King stated it so well:

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

To achieve happiness and success at any level, a person might approach work with equal enthusiasm – whatever the task.  For those of us in the business of food this implies that real satisfaction in our trade will come from approaching all tasks as if they are the most important.  Whether you are finishing a beautiful plate of food, ready for the pass or dicing 25 pounds of carrots for soup – you can find joy in knowing that you did the work well, to the best of your ability.

There is also the misconception of worth as it applies to the work that we do.  When worth relates strictly to compensation then we lose sight of purpose and significance.  Certainly, compensation is important – we live in a world where what we earn helps to determine how we are able to survive, thrive, and do the things that we seek to do.  But real worth is so much deeper than that.  Worth has everything to do with how you feel about yourself when you look in a mirror, how others view your skills and talent, how you contribute to the success of a team and the business you represent, how your work makes those who receive it feel, and how the work that you do impacts the world around you as well.  Great compensation without addressing the larger concept of worth will lead to dissatisfaction and doubt.

There is also a tremendous amount of gratification derived from “earning” a living through the work that we do.  Even the sore muscles, sweat, tiredness, and even stress that result from work can lead to real satisfaction and happiness when you know that what you are paid is deserved, and how you feel about your larger contribution is appreciated.  Earning a living, earning the trust of your co-workers, earning the respect of those for whom you work, and earning praise from the guests who enjoy the meal that you helped to prepare is one of the most important aspects of having a job and learning a skill.

Every successful chef that I know found joy in washing dishes, cutting vegetables, kneading bread dough, grilling a steak, sweating on the hot line, passing finished plates to a server, and even sweeping and moping a floor.  It is this approach towards work that allowed them to rise to the pinnacle of their profession and eventually put their signature on a restaurant.  Work is hard, it does require effort and sacrifice, it depends on a person’s commitment to doing even the smallest task with enthusiasm, it requires patience, and it requires a willingness to jump out of bed with a positive outlook on the day.  To view work as anything less that an opportunity is to miss what can result.

At a time when some struggle with finding the meaning to what they do, some question how their worth is viewed, some view work as a necessary evil, and some even invest their energy in finding ways for others to take care of them rather than take care of themselves, we (society and the food industry specifically) need to help others find the true meaning of work and how they define their own worth.

“Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.”

-Rumi – Persian Poet

There are far more jobs today than people willing to work. The opportunities abound.  So, if you seek fulfillment, then jump out of bed, splash cold water in your face, look sharp and get to work.  Find your purpose, look for fair compensation but by all means know that your true worth awaits you no matter what position you use.  You need to work to fill your heart with promise and feed your soul.

It’s time to light the spark in everyone and start the fire of enthusiasm for work.  The issues of work ethic and a puzzling workforce dilemma that plagues every industry will not be solved simply by raising wages or changing life/work balance. If we don’t address the importance of work, then nothing will truly change.


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