Human beings build, or dream of building, a life that benefits them.
A worldwide survey of entrepreneurs found that Americans cite independence as the main reason for starting a business. Brazilians overwhelmingly start businesses to provide jobs in their communities, and over half of Chinese entrepreneurs are driven by building a business they can pass on to their heirs.
But what if work is more than just a need for independence and security? What if it is essential to the soul because there has never been nor will there ever be another person made up of the same gifts, talents, interests, abilities, and purpose?
In his book Soul’s Code, Dr. James Hillman describes his acorn theory.: "Each of us has the capacity to generate 10(3000) eggs or sperm with unique sets of genes. If we consider 10(3000) eggs being generated by an individual woman and the same number of sperm being generated by an individual man, the likelihood of anyone else with your set of genes in the past or in the future becomes infinitesimal."
In their book Boundaries, Doctors Henry Cloud and John Townsend wrote, "However, many people are unable to ever find a true work identity. They stumble from job to job, never really finding anything that is 'them'… They have not been able to own their own gifts, talents, wants, desires, and dreams because they are unable to set boundaries on others’ definitions and expectations on them."
All the major religions of the world are clear on the topic of work. They describe work as a manifestation of faith, a way to serve each other, and a way to live up to our obligations. People of the Hindu faith believe work is their Dharma (duty). The Quran calls for Muslims to work hard and use their time productively in over 450 verses. According to Buddhist teachings, "Right livelihood shows the way for a person to choose in which way to become a useful, productive citizen who contributes to his or her own welfare and the welfare of others as well as bringing about social harmony and economic progress.”
In Exodus 31:1, Judaism reminds us, "The Lord spoke to Moses. See I have called you by name Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and I have filled him with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence and knowledge in every kind of craft to devise artistic design, to work in gold, silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting and in carving word, in every kind of craft."
The Christian Bible also makes it clear that humans were put on Earth to work and that God equipped us for that work. In fact, God "chose His servant David and took him from the sheep pins; from tending the sheep, He brought him to be the shepherd of his people…and David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them" (Psalm 78) and "when David served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep" (Acts 13:36).
Assuming the evidence points to the fact that work is not just an exchange of time or even ability for pay but, rather, a mission to which we have been called, how must our policies on education, workforce development, and economic development change?
Would we, for example, get serious about "grading" our schools on how successfully they transition children into adults? Perhaps we would move more rapidly toward multi-discipline education so children would understand concepts from every viewpoint.
Surely, we would have to move from the "get a job" mentality of our welfare and unemployment system to a "get the right job" philosophy. While it is not the government's job to help citizen uncover their calling, it does make for good government if people don’t use our safety nets for longer or more often than absolutely necessary.
No doubt we would revamp our government procurement processes to make contracts more accessible to small businesses— a change, by the way, which would have the added bonus of allowing more local businesses to secure local contracts and hire local employees.
Even if we reject the premise that work is soul-driven and we maintain a “work is just work” philosophy, it’s still good policy to measure our educational success by way of adult success, to reduce citizen dependence on government assistance, and to simplify procurement in a way that brings about fairness for small businesses.
Heather Beaven is the CEO of The Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida's Graduates, a 501c3, which is home to Jobs for Florida's Graduates, Girls Get I.T., Victory Over Stability by Choosing Education, and Students United with Parents and Educators to Resolve Bullying.