Claude Monet was a French Impressionist painter born in 1840. Readers are probably familiar with his paintings of water lilies. One of the unique attributes of Monet’s work was that he painted the same scene in different lighting – whether it be a different time of day or a different season. I had the great fortune of visiting the Jardins de Monet in the French hamlet of Giverny, about an hour outside Paris. For any fan of Impressionist painting, it’s a pilgrimage worth making.
I spent several hours immersed in the magic of Monet’s lily pond. While filled with visitors, the grounds retained the glow of his paintings. It was easy to see how well the master captured the beauty of the arena. And then, somewhat suddenly, a figure jumped out from the masses of tourists and stepped directly into the enchanting scene.
OMG - it was a worker!
My first thought was of the disruption. How could someone so abruptly inject themselves into this sacred landscape? I then thought more about the work that needed to be done – the weeding of Monet’s water lilies was something that kept the scene magical for the thousands of tourists that waited in long lines and demanded perfection.
The juxtaposition of the worker with the beauty of the scene was notable.
But what struck me most was the comments I heard from fellow visitors. “Wow, could you imagine if THAT was your job?” – or “wouldn’t I love to be her”
And it’s true, not many of us get to weed Monet’s Gardens in our day-to-day work. However, people like this wake up each morning the same way we all do. They eat breakfast the same way we do, commute to work, and look forward to their lunch break and to their weekends. A job is still a job – unless you take a different view. If you can find meaning in your work – or help others to do so – your work becomes more significant. There’s the great story of two stoneworkers asked about their work on building a new cathedral – one described the work as laying stone from 9 to 5 – and another described it as building a tremendous monument. You don’t have to work on Monet’s Garden to make a difference in the world.
It’s how you see your work – and how leaders paint a vision – that matters.
I imagine that it’s easy to be inspired by your work if you are clearing weeds in Monet’s Garden – and yet, the task itself is the same as clearing weeds anywhere – it’s how you frame your impact that matters.
We don’t often think about the mundane work in extravagant situations – who is the actor playing Mary Poppins at the Disneyland meet and great? – we don’t ever know her name, but she is changing the lives of kids everywhere. Who empties the trash at the Royal Palace? Who is the person that vacuums the Red Carpet ahead of the Oscars? Who polishes the crown of the Statue of Liberty or sells hot dogs at the Super Bowl?
These are all jobs that need to be done – and I can imagine that these folks are inspired by what they do – while at the same time, they worry about traffic, keeping their boss happy with their work – everyone has a life to contend with.
The challenge to managers, leaders, and HR professionals is this: How can we frame the everyday work of our teams to help people find meaning? Weeding Monet’s Garden is an inspiring job, but it probably pays less than leading a team to audit tax records. The job of a leader is to instill meaning, particularly when times are tough, and the work is hard.
It is up to the leader, working with HR professionals, to paint a bigger picture. We can’t all be weed pullers for Monet (and maybe we don’t want to be, we’d prefer to earn our income elsewhere and pay to visit as a tourist), but we can all have an impact on the lives of those around us.
It was striking to be reminded jobs exist in many forms. For some, the dream is CEO or C-Suite, and for others, to work amidst natural beauty, but it is the job of HR professionals to help people find the canvas upon which they can paint their own dreams. Mark Twain said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
We can all enjoy Monet’s Garden – regardless of the role we play. It’s up to all of us to find our meaning at work – even if we live in the land of dreams…