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Over the holiday season and into this new year, we endured a bitter cold snap here in Ottawa. The temperatures were punishing, especially on windy nights, with lows approaching -30C. But still there were brave souls who ventured out into the worst of it. My house backs on to a local park which is home each winter to an outdoor skating rink. I often see middle-age men out there at night removing snow and spraying water to re-surface the rink. These are not park employees. They are volunteers acting out a ritual repeated across our country (at least in those parts of it that are frozen most of the winter).

As I watch, shivering involuntarily at times over my hot tea, I wonder what motivates these nighttime ice groomers. Do they enjoy strapping on the blades and playing a game of pick-up hockey? Do they have kids that use the rink? Are they doing it for the community as a whole? Do they harbour a secret hope in having a hand in creating the next star hockey player? Or maybe these people are engaged in a friendly competition over who can make the best ice. Perhaps they have fond childhood memories of their time on an outdoor rink or frozen pond and want to pay the opportunity forward. Maybe it’s all of these things.

Does your work have meaning?

We often hear that humans are essentially self-interested and motivated primarily by their own material well-being. This is clearly not the case with these ice-tending folks, and really, most people. To be sure, in the world of work, many of us obsess about the money we are making and the other perks offered by our jobs. Some people generate impressive levels of anxiety worrying that they could be making more money elsewhere. I’m sure you know people who work only with money in mind. But wiser, more well-rounded people know that joy is found in meaningful work, that our spirit is nourished by a sense that we are doing more at work than just mining dollars from a dreary pit. When our work has no meaning, when people sense that their efforts aren’t making the world a better place, even if in a small way, many get sick or become depressed.

Take time to consider what matters to you

Now, I don’t mean to imply that people shouldn’t be paid for their work, that we in the modern world can survive on meaning alone. Of course not. I’m also not suggesting that meaning is a substitute for fair compensation. We can easily imagine a boss chastising an employee asking for a raise: “This work is too important to put a price on it!” However, I do think that we as a society could benefit by spending more time contemplating what it is that makes work meaningful, and asking what we can do to ensure that our work matters to us, that it matters to a wider community, and even to the planet. This would mean spending time considering what matters to us—the values we hold dearly and what kind of world we’d like to leave behind.

It might help to keep the ice-men (and women) in mind while thinking about the values and goals that would motivate us to self-sacrifice and endure the bitter cold, or some other discomfort, in order to see them realized.

I am hoping you will take the time in these first months of 2018 to reflect on what brings meaning to your life, and look for ways to align your professional and creative endeavours to your life’s purpose.

Looking forward to continuing to help you on your journey this year!