Why "I do not dream of labor" is resonating - SmartBrief

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Why “I do not dream of labor” is resonating

The "I do not dream of labor" meme isn't wrong, but workplace leaders can still do more to help people live out their dreams even while working.

4 min read


Person sleeping to illustrate I do not dream of labor meme

SmartBrief illustration

Have you seen what’s trending on TikTok? In addition to squirrels, cats and dance moves, you’ll find variations on a provocative response to the classic “what’s your dream job?” question. That response, “I do not dream of labor,” is playing out in countless videos and clever meme-inspiring ways.

Full disclosure: I’m not cool enough to have my own TikTok account. I learn much of what I need to know about pop culture through my kids. But this — unlike some of the animal and interpretive dance videos — has garnered media attention.

The voices, music and imagery offer an amusing take on the nature of work and its changing role in our lives. Because so much of this content is being generated by young people, it’s tempting to overlay stereotypes and tropes related to work ethic upon this contemporary (albeit quirky) cultural conversation. And many have.

But let’s face it. This is no generational issue. Nobody – regardless of age – “dreams of labor.” We don’t awaken in the morning looking forward to another day of sweating in the sun or over a keyboard, cranking out deliverables and meeting deadlines. And any leaders who believes that is likely facing an epidemic of attrition, dissatisfaction and disengagement.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we’re doomed to a workforce devoid of motivation, inspiration, or joy. What “I do not dream of labor” does mean is that leaders must dig deeper — within themselves and with their employees — to discover and tap into what people do dream about. Then, to actualize those dreams within the context of work.

The good news is that the workplace is an environment filled with opportunities to make this happen day-in and day-out. For instance.

  • Contribution: People dream of making a difference, of being of service and aligning with a higher purpose. Work is an ideal vehicle for expressing this common human desire in a profound way. Whether through employment with an organization that’s making the world a better place or recognizing their essential role in making something happen, people can realize the dream of contribution.
  • Connection: Cultivating meaningful relationships, deepening networks of support and surrounding ourselves with the experience of community are deeply personal needs that many people dream of. They can realize these needs through the work they choose to do.
  • Challenge: Achievement, accomplishment and recognition are at the heart of what many people find themselves dreaming of. And all of this can be found in our waking lives as we stretch beyond what’s known, step into the discomfort zone, try new and exciting things, embrace exhilarating challenges, satisfy the soul and serve the organization.
  • Choice: Autonomy has become one of today’s most pressing workplace issues. People dream of greater control and the ability to make meaningful choices about their jobs – the how, when and where. Flexibility is the dream of many. Exercising this kind of choice and decision-making fuels engagement, satisfaction, learning and growth for the individual — not to mention retention and results for the organization.

And this is just the beginning. An employee’s experience at work can deliver on the dream of greater competence, confidence, contentment and more. But this can only happen when leaders are committed to understanding what’s motivating, interesting and inspiring to their teams. Only then can employees cultivate a conversational cadence that allows them to connect with others and to connect work to their dreams.

“I do not dream of labor” isn’t incorrect. But we do hold big, beautiful, bold dreams that, with intention and support, can find expression within workplaces and bring meaning outside of them.

Learn more about delivering on the “dream” in Julie Winkle Giulioni’s new book, “Promotions Are So Yesterday.” And discover which of these dimensions might be most interesting to you and/or your employees by taking the free online Multidimension Career self-assessment.

Giulioni is a champion of growth and development in the workplace, helping leaders and organizations optimize the potential of their people. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, she’s the author of the bestseller “Promotions Are So Yesterday” and co-author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want.” Learn more about her work at JulieWinkleGiulioni.com.

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