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Good Work Nº 47: Getting perspective on good work

A hand-curated newsletter devoted to exploring how we choose to spend the 90,000 hours that will make up our careers.
Luke Thomas
▪︎ 5 minutes read time

🎶 Lord of the Rings Soundtrack by Howard Shore

This week’s Good Work is by guest writer Luke Thomas. Luke is the co-founder of Friday, software that complements workplace chat and helps you establish process and structure to the way that you communicate. He lives in Portland, Maine, and will gladly grab coffee with anyone who makes the trip into town.

Our brave hero prepares to face the world of work.

Happiness depends more on the inward disposition of mind than on outward circumstances.Benjamin Franklin

I grew up on a dirt road in a small town in Maine, 900 people in the middle of nowhere. The town was poor, the median household income $33K, but I grew up rich. I had won the lottery of a loving family. Every day around 4:15, my dad would pull into the driveway after a long day of work in manufacturing. It was one of the few reliable jobs in the area, and though he commuted an hour and a half a day, and didn’t enjoy the work, he didn’t complain about it. The minute he arrived home, he would instantly switch gears and focus on the people that mattered most to him—his family.

Fast forward 25 years. My dad still works at that same job. As the founder of an early-stage startup, I’m passionate about what I do for work, which was a rare event for my dad. I work remotely and don’t have to commute an hour and a half every day either. I have more time to spend with my family. I feel very fortunate.

I have a young son now, and even as I’m doing it, raising him, I think about the father I’d like to be. No matter how different my experience with work is from my dad’s, he’s the one who taught me what good work is really about: understanding that the work itself is a means to an end.

If work is your sole source of fulfillment or purpose, it will fail you. It is just a matter of time. I believe that work can be gratifying and enjoyable, but this pales in comparison to the joy of meaningful relationships. As you think about your work, ask yourself, is this a means or is it the end? If work is the end, you may find yourself with a list of accomplishments and career success, but no one to celebrate it with.

Readings Luke Loves

At its core, how meaningful work happens varies depending on the person, but there are structural ways to make work better for more people. I’m bullish on distributed work, and while it’s not going to solve all your workplace woes, it presents a unique opportunity to evaluate workplace norms that aren’t… working. These are some of my favorite resources on the topic:

  • I spent many years hunting for in-depth research on remote work, tired of articles saying, “you should have a team meetup” without evidence for the “why.” Weirdly enough, the best book I’ve ever read on this topic is a dense, research filled book written in 2001. If you want to go deep into the challenges and opportunities of distributed work, you need to pick up Distributed Work, by Pamela Hinds and Sara Kiesler.
  • Nowadays, we can chat on Slack, make a call on Zoom, send an email, or meet up in person. What channel is most appropriate? A couple of years ago I was introduced to a concept that completely changed how I think about communication, especially on a distributed team, called Media Richness Theory. While this theory isn’t perfect, it creates a helpful framework for thinking about what communication channel is most appropriate when.
  • Monty Python for meetings? I recently had an entertaining conversation with a retired software engineer who mentioned that he was taught meeting etiquette at work from one of the stars of Monty Python. It turns out there’s a 30-minute training video available on how to have more effective meetings at work, starring John Cleese.
  • If you work on a distributed team, I’d love it if you checked out my software company, Friday, and sent some feedback my way.

That’s Good Work for this week. Looking forward to what’s next.

Luke and the Holloway team

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