Two kinds of work: Mercenary and Missionary
Whenever you go to a social gathering where people don’t know you, what do they ask you?
After your name they ask, “What do you do?”
To me, work is identity, and I didn’t always look at work like that. For most of my life, work was just a means to have a job, and make some money to pay off the expenses of life. I wanted to make more money because everybody says that making more money is a good thing. However, that changed a few years back.
What work meant to me for the first few years of work life
I can’t quite define it because it was vague. I worked for similar reasons why most people work- to make money.
There are literally two approaches to work- the mercenary approach and the missionary approach. For most of my life so far, I was a mercenary, and I hated it. Please allow me to explain it.
What is the mercenary approach to work?
A prostitute sells her body for money. A person who doesn’t love his work or find any meaning in that work sells his soul for money.
There is no difference. So, I was that mercenary.
I was a mercenary because that’s how I had been brought up. I don’t know about the developed world, but I have been brought up in a developing country, India, where there are far more people than opportunities. People are brought up not to live, but to survive. They are taught to finish education and take jobs that pay the most. They are not taught self-awareness, or the meaning of purposeful work.
It may sound painful to say, but when parents live a mercenary life, that’s all they can really advise to their progeny. They don’t know otherwise. Only when people break free of the clutches of survival and conformity to realize that there is a life beyond, where work could give us a sense of purpose, the majority of the world would continue to work as mercenaries.
The only way to really break the mercenary rut is to realize that work has meaning beyond the money it generates. If only one could look at money as the fuel to reach the destination, and not the purpose of the journey, there is hope, to find the second kind of work.
That brings us to the second approach to work: The missionary
The missionary approach has its roots in the word- mission. Mission is a purpose to things. All great companies have missions. All great work is missionary. Let me give you an example:
This is how Google defines its mission:
Our company mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
All great artists are missionaries.
All great writers are missionaries.
All great work is missionary, and not mercenary.
Now, I will tell you how the seed of this thought was planted in my mind.
The moment it happened
In 2010, I went to watch a stand-up comedy show for the first time in my life. By then, I had worked for about 5 years as an employee- 3 years before MBA, and 2 years post MBA.
I saw a comedian for the first time. His name is Papa CJ. He is an English Comedian based out of India, although he had started his comedy in the UK, where he did his MBA, and started working as consultant, before quitting to become a comedian.
Now, when I saw CJ perform in a small cafe in the Greater Kailash area of Delhi, I still vividly remember, something moved inside me. There were some Indians in the cafe, and some foreigners who had been visiting. He mostly did what is called crowd work in stand-up comedy, but I just got hooked. I was hooked forever. I didn’t just get hooked to stand-up comedy, but the idea that work could mean THIS!
Stand-up comedy became my definition for what work should be like, that day. Here, I saw a man take the stage as a performer and spread laughter and cheer throughout the room. CJ was amazing that day, and I couldn’t forget it.
That was the start of my journey to view work as a missionary activity. From that point onward, I started trying to figure out how to find meaning and purpose in work, and not just work for money.
I have spent many years of my life since then, doing exactly that. My realization changed me as a person and made me crave for a life where work was missionary and not mercenary.
At the point when I discovered stand-up comedy, I had financial distress since I had an education loan to pay. I paid that back, in a few years, and then saved some money. In order to turn my life into a missionary work mode, I left the full time job I was in, and went independent, to try to become a writer, a stand-up comedian and a qualitative marketing insights consultant.
In the last few years since I quit my job, I haven’t done anything that I don’t like. I have performed as a comedian, written books, started a blog on happiness, and worked with brands across industries to help them with consumer insights. All of this, I enjoy, and whatever I do in the future, I want that to be a missionary and not a mercenary activity.
Anybody can be a missionary or a mercenary. I could be a missionary at a job that I love, and that is the whole idea. I could be a mercenary at a job which means nothing to me beyond money. The goal is to avoid that.
Why is it important to be a missionary at work?
Hey, now that you are here, I want to exhort you to find the missionary in you. When you do that, the meaning of work would change for you, and you wouldn’t find any joy in work that doesn’t feed your soul.
In order to move from being a mercenary to a missionary, you would need to do some soul searching and find a purpose that would guide your actions. I have written about how to find your purpose and this may help.
Work doesn’t have to be painful. Unfortunately, that is the case. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2017, a staggering 85% people hate their jobs. They hate their jobs because they are being mercenaries.
There is only one way to turn work into a medium for happiness and meaning in life- that is to do missionary work.
If one person at a time tries to figure out how to do missionary work, overall the macro business climate would change, and nobody would fear Mondays anymore. Mondays are feared because work is a source of pain for people, not a source of happiness.
Steve Jobs, the great man, said in his speech at Stanford said that you have to got to find what you love, and till you do, keep looking, don’t settle.
Thank you for reading. If you found this meaningful, do comment in, and share it with others. It helps my mission to make the world an inspired and happier place.