I’ve been struggling with the question of whether work is personal. I read Jon’s post a while back on the same topic and I sort of filed it away in the back of my mind. It came to the forefront of my mind this morning when I was walking to work. I was listening to an audiobook called "Love is the Killer App" (thanks Rosa!) and the author noted briefly that work isn’t personal. Some cars drove by at the same time, so I kinda missed out on the context and I didn’t rewind to get it. But the comment stayed with me, and I wonder whether it’s true. The thing that really nags at me is this idea of work/life balance. I’m an advocate of finding work where the values of the workplace line up with your personal values. I figure if there’s congruency between corporate values (practiced, not espoused), and personal values then we’re in a good place. But does such congruency equate to "work is personal?" I don’t think so.
I guess I should qualify what I mean by the words "work and "personal." When I say "work", I mean that activity from which we draw regular compensation, for purposes of living. When I say "personal", I’m talking about your sense of self-worth. The core of who you are. It seems like there could be instances where work really is personal, such as small family businesses, but I’m not even sure those qualify, though I do understand that many, many people really do identify personally with their work. I can also understand the concept of keeping your reputation intact–nobody wants to be sullied. But still, as far as I’m concerned that’s all business.
It seems to me that there are three elements in play here: people, place and job. People are who we work with. Place is both the location and the organization at which we work. Job is the work we do. Place is static, people and job are transient and can move between places. The best alignment between the three occurs when the practiced values of the place align with the values of the people and the job. If you have to work, that’s where you want to be. Unfortunately, those three are out of some kind of alignment most of the time. Either you don’t enjoy the job, or you don’t get along with the people, or your values are out of synch with the place. Or some combination of the three.
For me, work isn’t personal. It’s business and it’s removed from who I am. I work and I have standards and ethics toward which I strive. Also, because of values congruency, I define my own work. But my work doesn’t define me. It’s like my car–I use my car and I bought my car with very specific purposes in mind, but my car doesn’t define me. That sounds harsh, I know, especially when you consider all the personal relationships at work. But I’m not equating the people with cars, I’m equating the place with cars. Big difference in my mind. Regardless of where we work, we ought to be treating our coworkers respectfully at the bare minimum. But the place where we work is just a means to an end, not the end itself. When work becomes the end, it’s time for a vacation.