My sister when she worked at the Atlanta Zoo

My sister when she worked at the Atlanta Zoo

I’ve been mulling over the following problem for a while now, and while this idea may still be half-baked, I thought I’d toss it out for commentary and see what you think.

Over on Edutopia, Jenifer Fox and I are managing a group on Personalized Learning and Differentiated Instruction.  When we speak with teachers about what’s required to meet each student’s individual learning needs in the classroom, some folks approach the issue as “This is something I do anyway- It’s a natural part of great teaching” and others approach it as “Great- this is something else I have to do and don’t have any time to learn about.”  This difference is almost 180 degrees, between one of acceptance and one of resistance.

I started to think more about teaching being child-centered in the same way we talk about business becoming more customer-centered or gadgets working best when they are end-user centric. I think it’s a difference in how you frame your work- is it all about what you do, how you perform, and what you accomplish for the company and for others, or is it about what you get out of the equation- how much you’re paid, what the work conditions are like, if you feel valued, if you like your boss, etc.

If you watch movies like “Waiting For Superman“, you see this difference spelled out in black and white.  Is education and education reform all about the adults- who is paid what, where do they work, what are their benefits, and the like, or is it all about the students, and how we can give them the best education possible?  In your daily job, how much of your performance depends on how you are treated versus what you do to make sure the job is done to the best of your abilities?

These issues are intertwined and not easily parsed out, I’ll grant that.  If you don’t have the tools you need or the information necessary to do a good job, your results will show that.  You can feel hampered, voiceless, ignored, and otherwise impotent to change or take control.  You feel like you have to ask permission before doing anything, and as a result, you feel powerless and likewise unmotivated, to do anything else.

But some people don’t wait for the right tools or training or block time to be delivered to them- they go out and find what they need.  They do research in their off hours.  They read books that aren’t required or assigned.  They are intellectually curious about their field.  The set hours for their job are more fluid, because the lines between work and play blur a bit.  They love what they do, and even if it’s challenging, they like the puzzle.  They do more because they feel compelled to do more- for their own growth and interest, as uch for the others they work with or for the company.

This may also be the difference between a job and a career.  A job has you looking at the clock, a career is all about your personal growth and development along with what your performance may be.  I’ve had my share of jobs over the years, but even in those jobs, I felt I could only really perform when I put myself into the work- when I cared about what I was doing.  No one else can really make you care- that’s an internal light switch you have to flick yourself.

Here’s two examples.  My sister, Beth (pictured above), volunteered and later worked for the Atalanta Zoo in the Primate House.  Her interest lead to a job she loved and was very good at, but it started out with a passion that drove her to get educated and do what she needed to turn the passion into a really interesting and rewarding job.

In contrast, another relative of mine was in sales for years.  He’s always been great at sales,  and he’d sell anything, including items he really knew little or cared about at the end of the day.  But being a personality guy, he’s the sort who could sell ice cubes to Eskimos.  For him, he would do whatever he had to, work as hard as need be, to meet quota and stop.  He’d pour on the gas if there was an extra reward involved, and then slack off after the reward was won.  He was the kind of employee who drives bosses crazy, wondering why he won’t work consistently hard all the time.  And the truth of the matter was that my relative had figured out the game of work and played it very well.

However, a number of years ago, after being laid off from this type of sales job, he decided (at the urging of everyone around him) to finally sell something he loved more than anything else for a change- boats. Now, he works harder and longer hours than ever before.  He loves his job.  He eats, breathes and sleeps it.  He’s better at it than in any other job.  Even with variances in the market, he does well, because he really knows and cares about his product and his customers in a way he never did before.  He learns more about everyone and their needs, and works harder to find a better match between the client and product.

He’s become a different person because he finally is doing something he loves and cares about.  The switch was turned on.

Do you think there’s a difference between a job and your work?  This may be what Seth Godin talks about when he refers to work as your “art”- it’s what you would do even if no one were watching or making you do it- you do it because it’s a part of you and you care about it whether you’re on the clock or not.  I can’t wait to her what you think about this- let’s continue the discussion in the comments.