work |wrk| "An activity that brings value to others and meaning to you."  -The Author

Life sometimes hands us little ironies that, if we are awake at the moment, can focus our attention in a meaningful way. I had just such an irony on a recent flight. I was flying home from a speech in Florida and began thinking and writing about the place of work in our lives, specifically how we mature in regards to work. I came to the conclusion that there are basically four "modes" of work that we can pass through in our search for meaningful engagement: Exploration, Utilitarian, Renaissance and Mission. Definitions and explanations will follow later in this article.

It was shortly after writing these thoughts that the irony entered. I walked up to the galley area of the plane and began chatting with Frank, the lead attendant on the flight. I asked him how the merger was going with their recently acquired airline. He responded by saying that although there were definitely bumps in the road, it didn't have a whole lot of effect on his working life because he "brought a certain attitude to work each day."

"And what attitude is that?" I inquired.

"My work is my calling. It is my mission. I am here for you, the passenger, to make this the absolute best experience you can have. I am very blessed in my career. I see the world and get paid for it. I love seeing new places and enjoy all the perks that come with this career."

I told Frank that I was writing on that specific topic at this very moment and asked his permission to quote him in the piece. Armed with fresh affirmation of my theory that we can evolve and mature through modes (or stages) of work and eventually come to a place where our efforts, minds and spirits reach total assimilation ... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's first look at the four modes of work and try to locate ourselves within them:

Exploration Mode
(Often experienced in our 20s)
This is a time when people are "trying on" careers to see how they fit. Early on it is a process of discovering "what you don't like doing" more than anything. Even within a particular discipline (engineering, retail, sales, etc.), there is much exploration into the various tasks within that discipline to determine which engagements are good fits for an individual's personality, interests and skill-sets.

Utilitarian Mode
(Often experienced in our 30s and onward)
This is "going to work" for the purpose of meeting obligations, making ends meet and supporting a lifestyle outside of work. Many people segue from the Exploration mode into the Utilitarian mode simply because they have bills to pay and need a job that pays those bills. Others shift into this mode when they feel they have exhausted much of their exploration years and opportunities and settle for the best option they have found in terms of work that they find challenging and/or intriguing and pay they find acceptable.

Renaissance Mode
(Often experienced in our 40s-60s)
This is where people conduct in-depth examinations of their working lives. They identify the tasks and challenges that infuse them with energy and passion. They look for opportunities to capitalize as much as possible on their intellectual capital, relationships and skills, as well as on personal interests and makeup. In this mode, people seek work that affirms them as individuals and provides deeper personal satisfaction for their efforts.

Mission Mode
(Can be experienced at any age, but it takes time and exploration to find)
This mode of work is driven by a sense of purpose that can be very general; for instance, helping people become better communicators. People can also seek Mission work that is very specific in description-such as helping young people with their math skills. Mission work can take myriad forms of articulation. Those in Mission mode work toward their time being utilized to fulfill a specific purpose that they view with a high degree of passion.