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Reflecting on Our Genuine “Why” This Labor Day

Updated: Apr 23

Do you truly know why you work and what you really derive from it?

Labor Day, the national holiday we celebrate on Monday, September 5th is a good time for reflection on why we work and what we derive from it. The answer should be that it gives your life energy and meaning. If it doesn’t, you should change that.

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. Summer trips wind down, students leave for college, football season gears up and we anticipate the cooler days of fall with enthusiasm. The long weekend is marked for rest and recreation as we ponder the meaning and significance of labor and work.

The Central Labor Union organized the first Labor Day in 1882. Aimed at promoting trade unions, the parades and festivals were designed to entertain workers and their families. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, a welcome addition to fill the gap between Independence Day and Thanksgiving.

Work Matters

Most agree that meaningful work is a major component of human well-being. It does not matter whether the work is paid, volunteer or pro- bono, or whether you work at home to nurture a family. Work matters.

A human being without purpose is a lost soul. “A life well-lived” is the stuff of advertising, self-help books and the psychiatrist’s couch. The scientists at the Gallup organization have been exploring the subject since the mid-20th century.

A not-so-startling finding: Our happiness and feelings of well-being are a function of liking what we do each day.

Love What You Do

As Tom Rath and Jim Harter explain in their book, Well Being: The Five Essential Elements, “…at a fundamental level, we all need something to do, and ideally something to look forward to, when we wake up each day. What you spend your day doing each day shapes your identity, whether you are a student, parent, volunteer, retiree or have a more conventional job.”

That makes sense. Yet only 20% gave a strong “yes” when Gallup researchers asked, “Do you like what you do each day?” If 80% are unhappy with daily activities, the rest of their life is likely to be out of whack. Certainly, financial well-being will suffer as will physical, social and community well-being.

Well-Being Matters

Ask someone what well-being means to them and most, guys especially, will focus on money and physical fitness. But if you are to successfully navigate life, then relationships and social connections, your sense of place, the fact that you are where you belong in terms of where you live, work and interact with friends and people, as well as your spiritual home, are all key components of well-being. In other words, career, financial, physical, social, and community well-being are part of a balanced continuum.

Defining Strength

When you reinforce your talent with knowledge and skill, you have strength. A talent is a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior productively applied. A skill is the ability to move through the fundamental steps of a task. Knowledge is what we know.

A strength, then, is a powerful, productive combination of talent, skill and knowledge. When you are doing anything from strength, you feel it, you know it, and you love it. Boredom and frustration have no place in your day.

This Labor Day weekend, if you want to recalibrate and infuse your life with new energy, a revitalized sense of purpose, and a sense of holistic well-being, read these two short, but powerful books.

One More Thought

Winifred Holtby (1898-1935) was an English novelist and journalist, best known for her novel South Riding. Her epitaph reads, “God give me work, till my life shall end, And life, till my work is done.” After you say grace at your Labor Day picnic, add Winifred’s prayer to your wishes and resolutions.

Happy Labor Day.

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