Back in the summer of 1987, I was a college student who built custom PCs and wrote software to make money for living expenses and road trips. I had a small set of clients, one of which was a local office of a large advertising company. I wrote an application that managed their insertion orders and identified opportunities to get their clients volume discounts. It wasn’t very sophisticated, but it did save them almost a million dollars per year. I was too naïve to charge them what it was worth, but I got enough to keep me happy. It also gave me my first business trip. I flew out to their Fortune 500 client to install an instance of the software and give them training.
As I boarded the plane, I waxed philosophic. What was the real value of the work that I was doing? Other than giving me cash for car payments, school books, and gas to drive down to the OP Pro surf contest the following month, was there any intrinsic value to the work that I had done? If I turned that computer off, there wouldn’t be proof that I had done anything.
The passenger next to me was a research fellow at PARC (the Palo Alto Research Center for Xerox). He was one of the contributors to the invention of the mouse, among other things. He asked me what was on my mind, and I told him. He asked me, “Are you religious?”
I was. I had previous served a full-time mission for my church in Alaska, and was what one might say observant in my person religious activities. He told me the commandment to work was the first given to Adam and Eve after the fall (see Genesis 3:19). If it’s the first commandment given to mortal people, then it must be important. Work is a godly activity.
You don’t need to be religious to see the positive value of work. Regardless of the type of (honest) job you may have, it falls into one or both the following categories: creative or service. In this classification, creative work takes matter or ideas of a lower form of organization and transforms them something of a higher form. Building homes, analyzing data, updating a website, farming, refining oil, and repairing cars are all types of creation. Regardless of how directly or indirectly, how visible or hidden, service jobs help others. Both activities, creation and service, are the fundamental activities of God.
You don’t need faith in a higher power to participate in this power’s work and glory. Creation and service produce satisfaction. You may have a menial job without obvious value, but if you are arranging things into a higher level of organization or are serving others then you are performing a valuable function. Learning to find joy in the real value of one’s job provides the foundation for a career and mortal satisfaction. Those who recognize that what they do is important are happier and more productive. If you want to make your work better, find ways to organize your matter into a higher level of usefulness. Don’t just fulfill your assignments; give superior service to your customers. Exercise faith that doing your work better will bring you more happiness and more success in your career.
On the flight back from that first business trip, my philosophical angst was gone. I only thought about what the next project would be and the pending drive down to Huntington Beach to see Tom Curren at the surf contest (Barton Lynch beat Sunny Garcia at the main event that year).