When Work Has Its Own Reward

December 5, 2020

This past week did you catch the news coverage of the UPS and FedEx semis hitting the road with the initial shipments of vaccine? Clouded by the severe economic hardships created by the COVID-19 virus in 2020 … I’m not sure that we instantly grasp or appreciate the medical achievements of developing and delivering this vaccine in nine months. Years from now I believe we will look back on this work as equal to any medical breakthrough throughout history.

This event reminds me that the one constant driving force that gives work meaning is the purpose served. I experienced this myself as a 12 year old delivering the Cleveland Plain Dealer daily newspaper on my bicycle in the morning before school. My task included untying the bundle of papers dropped in my front yard earlier that morning, tucking them into tri-folds and stuffing them into the canvas bag that hung around the seat post and the rear fender of my bike. Each morning I would deliver those papers to my 32 customers. In the winter the task became a bit more challenging. On some mornings in the fall, winter and spring ( it did snow in April one year ), there would be as much as 12 inches of new snow on the ground and at that time of day the sidewalks hadn’t been cleared and the streets hadn’t been plowed.

In addition to the daily deliveries, I went door to door on Saturdays to collect for that week’s work. Saturday door-to-door collection was kind of a drudgery – I mean Saturday was for playing and building my Revell models. However, on a few occasions I was acknowledged by my customers for my dependability, care to place the newspapers inside the storm doors safe from the elements, and for bringing the important news of the day. That personal feedback made Saturday’s OK and gave my work meaning. It was not he “paycheck” or even the generous Christmas tips.

I was just a paperboy, but in those days the newspaper was one of the primary sources of news to the world besides radio and the three TV networks. So, without exactly realizing it way back then … I was experiencing meaningful work.  Even as a young boy, I was enjoying the satisfaction of performing a difficult task that was connected to my very noble humanitarian purpose of bringing the news of the day to those 32 customers.   OK, so a neighborhood paper route is not equal to delivering a vaccine to heal the world.  But hold on … what if we take time to elevate the context of our own business endeavors from tasks to missions?  For example, at a hospital, what happens if Shirley’s work as a hospital janitor is portrayed as contributing to the purpose of healing?  That gives work meaning – which is the true and lasting reward for work that we do every day.