I’ve got a best friend at work. I’ll admit it in a heartbeat. We interact frequently throughout the day. She stops by in the morning, when I’m quietly sipping my coffee and prioritizing the day’s most urgent tasks. At lunch, we often stroll together through a nearby park, enjoying the break in focus from work and taking in the fresh air. In the afternoons, I normally take another break with her for more laughter and some goofing around. I know what you’re thinking…either I don’t work very much (or efficiently) or it’s a budding work romance. Wrong on both accounts….Her name is Cooper, and she’s my Golden Retriever. I work at home.
In all seriousness, though, what is it about having a best friend at work that’s so important? Why is it that Gallup (the leader in workplace engagement studies) emphasizes the relationship between engaged, productive work and the strength of relationship in the workplace?
The answer lies in a simple revelation…while the financial necessities of employment are real for most people, it’s in relationships that most of us find meaning in our work. So, why not transform our vision of individual success from a focus on income and our own “return on investment” in financial terms to one that primarily targets the strengthening of relationships?
So, how then do we use this goal-setting period of the year to refocus on building meaning in our lives? The answer lies within each of us, and far be it from me to dictate what may be meaningful to each of you. But somewhere within us, the spark of “meaningfulness” lies dormant, waiting to catch fire. I’d suggest the following steps for this exploration:
- Find a quiet place to think, and arm yourself with a pen and paper (or better yet, a whiteboard if you have one).
- At the center of your paper, draw a circle and inside it write your name or initials.
- For the next 2-5 minutes, begin jotting down words that describe those things in your life for which you are passionate, i.e., things you love to do, people who hold particular importance for you, hobbies, interests, etc. Write each randomly around your paper, making a real effort to engage your right-brain and avoid linear lists.
- Next, take some time to look at the words, ideas, relationships and ideas that now lie scattered about your page. What is it that appeals and connects these possibly disparate items? Circle each one separately.
- Now, begin drawing lines connecting those words that are either similar or that have a particular relevance to each other them. For example, you may end up with connected networks of relationships, activities, professional tasks, and others….
- Now draw a Venn diagram on a separate sheet of paper, with three overlapping circles (Personal, Professional, & Relationships). And begin categorizing your words into these circles (engaging your left-brain thinking now).
- When finished, take a step back and look at the results.
Chances are, you’ve got individual items that fit solely into each category by themselves, and you’ve also got some that reside in the overlapping segments of the circles. And for most of us, the central overlap has within it only a few items, and typically these items are about connections. This is where the most symbiotic elements of meaning take place, and it’s why having a best friend at work is so important.
Now, how you use this diagram in setting your personal goals is up to you, but it helps to recognize those aspects of life that you find most meaningful and to understand their relationship to each other. Your focus need not be all within that center section of the diagram, though. In fact, it shouldn’t be. There’s equal value to focusing on each of those items that fall squarely into each circle. For me, that means planning time to engage only myself, be that with exercise, skydiving, reading, or writing fiction. It means deliberately focusing on strengthening relationships with my kids, family, and others, outside of the purview of my professional world. All items on the chart are important. But its in this simple exercise that we better understand the interconnected nature of many of the things that bring meaning to our individual lives. And that’s a starting point……