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Optimal Health and Livelihood: Creating Meaning in Your Work

“You really should try the Saturday morning class,” one member tells another on their way to the locker room. “The instructor is wonderful! She really puts her heart and soul into that class. The music is great and we get a terrific workout. I always leave that class feeling so positive and re-energized.”

Optimal health and livelihood

At the fitness center, we often talk about optimal health in terms of exercise, nutrition and maybe stress management. Another important component of optimal health is engagement in meaningful work. After all, the way you spend your time, day after day, whether your work is paid or unpaid, is what life is all about. Your time is your life, and your work is a big part of your time.

Chances are, the instructor described above, who puts her heart and soul into her class, gets a great deal of satisfaction from her work. Do you?

Describing how to create meaningful work is harder than describing how to design an ideal exercise program. As with an exercise prescription, many factors must be considered. Certainly the nature of your job has a great deal to do with the satisfaction you obtain from it. But creating meaning in your work goes way beyond finding the “right job.” You probably know people with “great jobs” who are still miserable and always complaining, just as you may know other people with “ordinary jobs” who enjoy going to work each day and seem to make the best of everything.

Ironically, the best way to get more out of work (and life) is to put more into it. Here are a few ideas for increasing the quality of your life by creating meaning in your work.

Cultivate commitment

To get more out of life, it’s important to see your work as more than just “a job.” Whether you work as an exercise instructor, health care professional, personal trainer or weight room monitor, you can bring to your work and your life a commitment to ideals and values that shines, even through the daily grind. Personal commitment is the difference between people who find satisfaction in their work and people who are simply passing time.

Take a moment to think about teachers who have been special in your life. Think about teachers in the broadest sense of the word, including teachers from your school life, coaches, youth group leaders, special subject teachers, trusted adult friends and mentors, religious leaders, colleagues and fitness instructors. What qualities characterize these special people?

In most cases, these people put something extra into their work and their relationships. This something extra that is found in special teachers does not evolve for the sake of meeting some external standard, but rather, evolves from a personal one. Quality is a personal standard and way of life. They excel to please themselves because it feels good to do a great job. A personal commitment to your work creates quality as a byproduct.

Find inspiration

We use the word inspiration to refer to both the inhalation of air into the lungs and to an impulse that moves us to be creative. In both cases, inspiration gives energy — literally when oxygen is delivered to our cells, and figuratively when we are being creative.

Where can you find inspiration? Inspiration is more an experience of the heart than of the intellect. Many people find inspiration in the arts, such as books, movies or music. Others feel inspired as they strive to achieve excellence in athletic or artistic performance. We feel inspired when we spend time with inspiring teachers and other special people in our lives. Master classes are often an inspiration to group exercise leaders. Inspiration can come from enjoyable hobbies and recreational activities.

When you feel inspired, you become an inspiration for others. If you can do it (whatever “it” is), they can do it. Your commitment and inspiration becomes contagious to colleagues, clients and friends.

Develop your individual style

Develop those characteristics (and we all have them) that make you special. Let’s take a group exercise leader. What are some ways to add individual style to this job? You might add a little something to your class that makes it just a little different. You might throw in a joke, a short heart-warming story, a meaningful quote or an anecdote for the day. Help clients with their posture (almost all of them could use some help with those rounded shoulders and forward head).

You might also develop a personal style in your appearance that makes a statement about who you are. You could do something extra to create a special workout environment: carefully chosen music, a clean and pleasant studio, entertaining posters or bulletin board art. An individual style shows that you take pride in your work.

Actively engage in learning and growing

The pursuit of optimal health is a lifelong journey. The active engagement in lifelong learning and growing creates energy and meaning in your work. It also increases your knowledge. Take workshops and classes, read and attend conferences.

Give that “extra something”

In the fitness and healthcare business, the more you give, the more you get. Small things can create a personal touch. Learn clients’ names and something personal about them. Learn their occupations, their hobbies or their favorite places to go on vacation. Clients probably do not want you to waste their time and money on long conversations (and you may not have time for these yourself), but it takes only a few seconds to ask, “How was the concert?” or, “Did you have a chance to play tennis over the weekend?”

That extra something might be a handout following up on a problem you have discussed, special treats that you bring to class or work one day, or a bunch of flowers for the corner of the studio.

Of course, giving must always be balanced with self-renewal through activities discussed above. Just as quality evolves from a personal commitment to excellence, the practice of giving something extra comes from self-development and inspiration.

Ed Pitts1 recently pointed out that as more businesses become “high tech,” clients will have a stronger need and a deeper appreciation for businesses that deliver “high touch.” “No efficient technology can take the place of a human face, flexibility and a demonstrated desire to help a member when he or she needs it,” he said. Caring about the job you do with your clients is that “something extra” that makes your own work more rewarding.

July 15, 2015 at 6:51 pm
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