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Happy October, everyone! It just got a little cooler here in Toronto, as if the weather can read a calendar. We're anxiously planning for the indoor months ahead, getting together with friends one last time before it gets too cold to meet up, or figuring out how to embrace the outdoors.

It's a lot easier to embrace the outdoors when you have good public infrastructure like skating rinks, walkable streets and well-lit squares. In today's newsletter I answer the question, how are values at work like public infrastructure? (One of these days I will figure out how to use this introduction to make a cute segue into the newsletter, but apparently not today.)

Enjoy and stay well!

A reindeer stands in the shallow water at the edge of a slow-moving river. It looks directly at the viewer. Dense evergreen brush grows on the riverbank.

Values at Work

Last week I was talking to artist Marnie Saskin and she said:

"I don't do work that doesn't align with my values."

So simple, but it rung in my head like a gong. The way she put it was so powerful; not, "I don't like to do work that doesn't align with my values", but simply, unequivocally, "I don't do that work." How interesting!

I didn't thrive in my first career. I worked in the tech industry, in tedious supporting roles. The work I did was lonely and not challenging. The companies I worked for made dull products that didn't seem to make the world better.

I did tech support at a company that made machine learning software, and one of the customer stories we touted was a study about improving the outcome for kidney transplant patients — I clung on to that case study like a life preserver in a sea of marketing and finance "success stories".

Every Sunday I dreaded the week ahead. Weekday mornings I bribed myself out of bed with the promise of coffee and a muffin on the way to work. I got through the days by spending far too much time hanging out with sysadmins and receptionists (always the best people, interesting and with lots of time to chat).

I lasted about five years. Afterwards I blamed myself for "failing"; I was lazy, I wasn't smart enough, I somehow didn't... try hard enough?

Since then, I've learned about the importance of values, and I've gotten to know myself better. I value connection and companionship, so I don't like to work alone. I value challenge, so I like to do new, complicated things. I value agency, which means I suck at nine-to-five butt-in-seat jobs. And I value making a positive impact; I want my work to make the world better.

Doing work that aligns with your values provides intrinsic motivation. Your values provide the fuel that stokes the engine that drives your work. And it's more satisfying. Knowing that you will spend your day in a way that nourishes you makes it easier to get up. And walking away from your work at the end of a shift knowing that you have tilted the world in a better direction makes it easier to sleep at night.

Isn't values-aligned work a luxury?

But wait a second. What about all the shitty jobs? The hard jobs, the dirty jobs. Doesn't someone need to do those?

And isn't the idea of expecting your work to align with your values kind of elitist? Great for rich folks, or childless bohemians who can dabble in genteel poverty (or middle-class housewives with well-paid husbands) — what about people with mouths to feed and mortgages to pay? Don't they have to suck it up and do whatever work they can find?

(And hey, why don't we just give the shitty jobs to the people who need money! Wait, that's what we do now.)

I say no. I say that everyone is entitled to do work that aligns with their values.

In an passage about infrastructure in the photobook Remnants of Mid-Century Toronto, Dylan Reid paraphrases Aníbal Gaviria Correa, the former mayor of Medellín, Columbia:

"Everyone wants beauty, he says, and for a city to be a space of equality, beauty should be everywhere, in every part of the city and in every small detail of public space."

For a city to show equality, to be just, the value of beauty should be apparent in every small detail of public space — not just opera halls and museums and grand hotels, but subway stations, bridges, electrical substations, water treatment plants.

If we can reflect the values of beauty and respect in all kinds of infrastructure (and we can, although whether your government chooses to depends where you are) we can reflect values in all kinds of work.

(Almost) All work is values-aligned

Every job is values-aligned. You don't have to be a pediatric surgeon or an entangled-whale-rescuer to honour values in your work. A crane operator builds beautiful infrastructure or homes; a flight attendant takes care of people who are on their way to visit family or take a well-deserved rest; a subway maintenance person keeps the subway system clean so people can travel around the city safely. Any job can, with a little imagination, be connected to deep values like service, nature, love, respect, connection, or stewardship.

Indeed, the pandemic showed that some of the most "menial" work — cleaning spaces; growing, harvesting and processing food; moving things around — is actually the most essential and value-able.

(There's one exception to the rule that all jobs are values-aligned: bullshit jobs. Bullshit jobs are, pretty much by definition, the only jobs in which the work itself is impossible to connect to values. I think they only way a person could stomach them would be through values like conscientiousness or financial security.)

Connecting values and work

I argue that it's possible for everyone to connect their values to their work for two reasons: every person has a bunch of values, and every job honours a bunch of values. It's simply a matchmaking problem.

So, who does the matchmaking? Well, sorry, but... probably you. It would be great if all bosses took the time to clearly express and understand the values behind the work, and provided coaching so all workers (not just "emerging leaders" and "high potentials") could figure out their values and connect them to the work. But, here in the real world, we mostly do that work for ourselves, explicitly or through experimentation, alone or with a coach.

Finding my work

As for me, after I left software, I worked as a parent, a freelance editor, and a freelance coach, getting more intentional with each career changed. Parenting serves my values of companionship, challenge and agency gloriously, but the pay and the hours are awful and if you do it properly you're redundant pretty quickly. Editing is great for challenge and agency, but pretty lonely work. But coaching! Coaching is my Goldilocks work, serving all those values and more.

How about you? How does your work connect to your values? Have you ever done work that doesn't align with your values? How did you get through it?

What's NewThinking about all the cool stuff I'm doing, wearing a grey blazer and sky blue top

Two of my clients this week talked about how to use the last three months of the year to set themselves up for success in 2021. (It's funny, isn't it — you spend half of August getting ready for fall, and then September is all "getting back to it after summer", and suddenly it's October and you're setting things up for next year. When do you do the now thing? Maybe there is no now thing — maybe everything is either getting ready for something or recovering from something? But I digress.)

My clients are wise, so I started to think about what I can do in October and November (December is for eating mince tarts) to make the most of 2021. For one thing, I'm going to put together a mastermind group (oooh fancy), so let me know if you're interest in being part of it. Or let me know if you would like to know what that is, since I only learned yesterday.

I'm also moving my website, because it turns out you're not technically supposed to host commercial websites on the free service I'm using now. 👀 Oops.

And of course, I'm going to get certified and finish team coach training, so by the end of the year I will be completely out of excuses to put off, you know, businessing like a real business person. Look out, world!

Fun and Interesting

  • When this photo was taken, ten thousand men in New York City knew that name. I feel like this is all over the Internet already, but maybe you didn't hear about Tanqueray yet? Stephanie Johnson, a.k.a. Tanqueray, is featured in a 32-part profile by Humans of New York. Her story is fantastic and underscored for me that people are incredibly interesting, strong, and brave. Tattletales by Tanqueray []
  • There are many ways to look busy without accomplishing anything. Sometimes it's hard to tell that you need a break. This Fast Company article by Art Markman has a few things to look for. 3 Signs You Need to Take a Break from Work []
  • If you missed it back in the 00's, the Discovery Channel's show Dirty Jobs was a paean to exactly the kind of value-rich but also gross jobs I talked about above. Basically Fanfare for the Common Man in reality TV form. It's on Youtube now, but I feel like it shouldn't be there? Apparently it's available on various streaming services, too, so do try and watch it legally if you can. Dirty Jobs []
A couple of people replied to let me know they like my links, and a list of links is a time-honoured part of every newsletter (or web-log!) so this section is safe for now.

Thank you for reading this far!

If you like what you read, hit reply and let me know, or forward it and let someone else know. If you have questions or comments, hit reply and let me know. If you have seen something interesting out there, hit reply and let me know. Are you seeing a trend here? If so... hit reply and let me know! I look forward to hearing from you. ❤️

Amy Rhoda Brown Coaching
Copyright © 2020 Amy Rhoda Brown Coaching, All rights reserved.

I live and work on land which for thousands of years has been part of the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabe and the Huron-Wendat. Today, this meeting place is still home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island, and I am glad to be able to live and work here.

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