Contribution, Community, and Challenge
Work can drip with meaning.
For example: when I teach, there are those moments when I break down a concept, and I see an “Aha!” light flash over my student’s head. Another example: in a casual work conversation with a colleague, I watch as they hear their own voice explaining something they just now realized. My student and my friend are connecting the dots in real-time, and—this very instant—they come to a brand-new conclusion.
Meaning-making has everything to do with realization. When I suddenly come to understand the world looks like this rather than that, it is because growth, realization, and understanding have all played a role in (finally) slapping sense into my brain. In his recent Forbes article (“Meaningful Work: Why Your People Are Quiet Quitting And What To Do About It”), Wes Adams suggested that lack of meaning is the reason behind quiet quitting. People quit because they are not engaged in their job. Unengaged work looks like rote tasks completed in a rote way. That is the opposite of spending the day stumbling into realizations.
Adams prescribed three “C’s” for making meaning: Contribution, Community, and Challenge.
- Contribution: Ensuring that our work makes a difference in reaching the larger goals, which I would hope, also means helping humans
- Community: Ensuring that our work is fully enmeshed in relationships and relational opportunities. I’ve often thought that “conversation is an engine” in the sense that much of what we want to happen in life comes down to talking with someone else to get something started or to keep it going. Those conversations are the hidden treasure cave of human existence.
- Challenge: Our goals need to be big enough that they pull us out of everyday thinking ruts because they require something else of us. Perhaps something beyond us
Each of these plays a role in ensuring our work matters in the context of connecting with others and toward a common goal that pulls us all forward, generating more “Aha!” moments.
Behind the notion of making meaning, and behind the three C’s, is an understood common goal. I find that I have the most “Aha!” moments when I am in conversation with people who share my larger goals. Theologian Karl Barth was right when he noted that pilgrims on the road have things to say to each other when they meet. The same is true in the ecosystems we craft to support our work, spiritual, and exercise goals. There is a lot to talk about with people moving in the same direction.
The point is to be intentional about these ecosystems around us, which means that the ecosystems we build at work are quite likely different from those that emerge on their own. If we want work to drip with meaning, we make sure our mission drives our three C’s so that all the conversations in progress create more “Aha.” Sometimes we land in a job where the ecosystem we thought we were part of is not what we thought. Switching jobs or communities to find the challenge where you can contribute may be the wise alternative.
The right mix of contribution, community, and challenge will evoke realizations left and right, and may even change the world.