I recall reading, several months ago, a few different articles online about a sizable number of “unhappy” workers in the workplace. (Nearly half of global employees unhappy in jobs and Most Americans hate work so much they’re sabotaging their employers are just two examples. You could search and find more.) Upon reading the gloomy statistics, I couldn’t help but wonder how the field of education would fare in such a poll.
Since then, my mind has drifted back to this topic as I am reading quite an engaging book entitled Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Everyday by Todd Henry. Yes, the title would appear to indicate a somewhat undesirable topic, but in actuality the content of the book has compelled me to inquire into my own practice and motives for doing the work I do.
Early in the book, Henry suggests three kinds of work – “any instance where you make an effort to create value where it didn’t previously exist” – and that we must engage all three in order to reach our full potential as workers. The three kinds of work Henry describes are mapping, making and meshing. The first two are rather simple to understand and are the most commonly engaged by workers. Mapping, in a word, is planning. Making, in a word, is doing. Those seem easily connected to the work we do, day in and day out as school leaders and educators. The third kind of work, meshing, often gets the least amount of attention.
So what is meshing?
Meshing involves all of the “work between the work” that actually makes you effective. It’s composed of activities that stretch and grow you, such as acquiring and developing new skills, reinforcing or enhancing your knowledge, cultivating your curiosity, or generating a better understanding of the context for your work. It’s also composed of critical disciplines such as paying attention to the adjacent spaces in your industry and engaging in activities that may not have an immediate payoff, but position you to be more effective in the coming days. (pg. 22)
The word that comes to mind after reading this passage from the book is learning. Satisfied workers who work to their potential are not only planning and doing tasks (often mindlessly or through routine), but inquiring, reflecting and learning along the way. Those who engage mapping, making AND meshing are what Henry considers to be developers.
The Developer is constantly weaving together available resources and opportunities to create value. He doesn’t work frantically, but instead works with urgency and diligence, making plans and then executing them, learning from his actions, and then redirecting as needed. He recognizes that uncertainty is not an enemy, but a natural part of engaging in important and valuable work. He also knows that opportunities are valuable only if he is prepared to take advantage of them, and as such he is constantly developing the skills that will be needed when he gets where he wants to go rather than where he is currently. If you want to die empty of regret, with a body of work you can be proud of, you must focus on becoming a Developer.
We have many committed educators in our profession – leaders and teachers who not only plan and do but also who are committed and dedicated to pushing this most noble of professions to inquire and learn about what could be. Those workers who are most effective include meshing activities as part of their daily work. As we begin the new year – 2014 – and redefine our personal goals, shouldn’t we take stock of our work in these three areas – mapping, making and meshing? Can we challenge ourselves to honestly articulate evidence of our work? Are we focusing too much of our time on mapping and making? Do we need to develop our skills at meshing? How would our work look different if we functioned at higher levels in all three areas? Finally, if we did so (not just in education, but in any profession), would we see increased job satisfaction and begin to turn around the doom and gloom statistics of worker job satisfaction?