Why do so many people work so hard just to build up the funds to quit?

For the seventh part of our series with Ashridge Business School, Chris Nichols delves into 'Reinventing Work'; asking why people stay in jobs that make them unhappy, and explaining how the Ashridge MSc in Sustainability & Responsibility can help.

In twenty-five years of coaching, I have met thousands of people with the same dream: to have “enough” money to do what they really want to do.

The dream outcome is different for each – but the impact on their life today is always the same. Like Didi and Gogo in Waiting for Godot, we sit, wait and put up with work we don’t want to do to save for the life we actually want. This is the lifeblood of capitalism, and of the entire savings and pensions industry – that we share a dream of a golden future that has to be paid for from savings from work.

There is another version of the story. Find the Work that matters to you and do it now in the way that brings you alive.

On the Ashridge MSc we talk about our Work with a capital W, which is not the same as a job. Think of it more like an artist’s work, their “oeuvre durable”, their work of lasting significance.

So how do we support people to find their Work?

Action Research is our core perspective on the MSc, and it is right at the heart of this exploration. At every stage of the process, we expect our participants to reflect on their actions, observing their energy, their emotional responses, their embodied reactions.

Everyone participates in systems and can work within the systems in different and creative ways and actions research. Different behaviours affect the system differently. Shifting roles or positions within a system allows creatively different actions, and so on.

So, our graduate Jonathan Wise explored his role within a leading advertising agency, coming to question how his work was serving himself, others and the ecosystem. Jonathan teamed up with Ella Saltmarshe to create The Comms Lab, an initiative to work with the advertising industry to redefine its role. Working with individuals, agencies and across the sector The Comms Lab takes an appreciative stance, working to harness the change skills and creative capabilities of the sector towards positive outcomes.

They do this Work because “we believe the world needs the power of commercial creativity to tackle the enormous challenges we face today… AND because we believe commercial creativity needs to redefine its role in the world if it is going to face the challenges it faces as a sector”

One of the joys of working on the MSc is the wealth of inspiring stories of entrepreneurship and innovation that we see during the programme and from our flourishing alumni. We now have several hundred alumni actively exploring their Work in the world as they continue to experiment and learn together. The alumni community is itself an example of a learning community, connected by purpose and shared practice and experience. Through it people create new ways of working that bring them alive today, not merely sources of funding for some distant relief from drudgery.

I personally find this one of the most rewarding parts of my Work, supporting people exploring the boundaries of their own possibility, to redefine the impact they want to have on work, society and the world through their energy and activity. That, for me, is a business school doing what it should, supporting the potential to create leaders and organisations for a resilient and thriving future.

“To live well is to work well” says Thomas Aquinas … The question of the nature of the Work we do is right at the heart of creating sustainable and responsible organisations and a resilient society. It’s vital work and it is my Work to be a creative thread in this exploration.

Chris Nichols is a business director at Ashridge, where he is co-director of the Ashridge Masters in Sustainability and Responsibility programme and deputy director of The Leadership Experience. 

edie has partnered with Ashridge Business School for this series of articles focused on growing international debate and practice around sustainability. The next part is titled ‘Learning about the next challenges’ and will talk about how to stay alert to new challenges as they arise and how to keep learning alive in your life and practice in the service of a more sustainable future

Read all parts of the series so far here.


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