Millennials – The Search for Worthwhile Work

One of my favorite Buddhist quotes is, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  I have found that the more willing I am to be a student the more teachers I will find. I wrote an earlier blog titled, “The Alchemist and the JMO” where I told the story of traveling to Germany on a recruiting trip last December and having two Cameron-Brooks candidates (two of my “teachers”) recommend I read The Alchemist, by Paul Coelho. One also recommended I read, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. These recommendations came from JMOs who are members of the Millennial Generation – born after 1980. During recent trips, when I interview junior military officers who are considering transitioning to corporate America through the Cameron-Brooks Development & Preparation Program©, I have heard an increasing desire to find worthwhile and meaningful work in their next career. Sometimes this desire leads JMOs to only consider other government service sector careers. Some assume that selfless service is common only to those who wear a uniform. Certainly we are indebted to all who serve the public in uniform. I believe selfless service and meaningful work is also found in hundreds of private companies in a wide variety of industries.

The issue is complex and requires research and a broad career search. I also think it requires self-insight. Meaningful work to some may focus on the quality of products or services a company provides. To others it may be working with people of their ilk. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins writes that one characteristic of great companies is the belief that getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus is more important than where the bus is going. The deeper question for an individual is, “How can I find meaning in my work?” Viktor Frankl developed his philosophy of logotherapy during his years as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps. He observed that a common characteristic of those who survived the camps was awareness that their life had meaning to someone else. In one case he gives the example of reminding a man contemplating suicide that he had a daughter waiting safely for him in another country who was counting on him to live. Having this meaning to his life allowed the man to dig deeper within himself and survive his suffering. We can all look within ourselves and our current work to find meaning in what we do. Who is counting on us? Who benefits from the product of our labor? One easy to read book on the subject is, Gung Ho, by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. The book tells the story of a manufacturing manager and former active duty U.S. Marine who instills the notion of worthwhile work in his team. The lesson is broadly applicable in many companies and gives those searching for worthwhile and meaningful work a way to evaluate possible career opportunities.

Steve Sosland