PACE (Practical Application for Careers and Enterprises)

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Choice and Consequences


What do you do?

A question that comes up at nearly every dinner party, college reunion, and wedding.

A lot of us are defined by our jobs—a trap that’s easy to fall into. After all, we spend 1/3 of our life at work. For the average person, that’s more than 90,000 hours in our lifetime. So the question, what do you do, or, with the full implication written out, what do you do for work makes a lot of sense. We feel tremendous pressure to give a solid answer to that question.

Most of us in the MBA program are still in a process of figuring out our careers. But in PACE class last week, Stuart Read posed a slightly different question: why work at all? No, he wasn’t trying to dissuade us from applying for jobs. Based on the book Drive: The Surprising Truth that Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, he was asking us to establish good and bad reasons to work. One half of the classroom wrote on sticky-notes jobs we would like to have and that would fulfill three key aspects of a job Pink outlines in his book (Purpose, Mastery, and Autonomy). The idea is that a job high in these three areas will motivate us long beyond the desire for a paycheck. The second half of the class wrote down jobs they wouldn’t like to have. Through this process, we realized how important it is to have purpose beyond just a paycheck. This made sense. Recent studies have demonstrated that people with jobs they like tend to live longer on average (de Haaff). More fulfilling job = More motivated at a job = Longer life.

This equation generally holds true. In a 2014 study, researchers found “those who had self-rated themselves as having a high sense of purpose were more likely to have survived. Even after controlling for other markers of psychological and affective well-being, the results of the analysis showed that purposeful individuals outlived their more aimless peers” (“A Meaningful Job”).

But towards the end of the class discussion, a classmate of mine brought up a valid point: what about people who have intrinsically high stress (but also highly motivating) jobs? Just because a job fulfills the three key areas outlined by Pink doesn’t mean someone is living a stress-free lifestyle. Workplace stress, even in a purpose-filled job, can take a toll. She had a point: a 2015 study by researchers at Harvard and Stanford concluded that 10-38 percent of difference in average life expectancy could be explained by job conditions, even after accounting for other factors like demographics and education levels (Goh). Of course, workplace stress can manifest in any type of job in any location and the outcomes are always negative.

So the question is not just how do we find work that motivates us, but at the same time how do we manage the stress of working? Nearly everyone I know experiences some level of work-related stress, including those that love their jobs. To find out how people manage this stress, I turned to people who I knew had experienced high levels of stress in their workplace: an attorney, a veterinarian, and a mechanical engineer during the War in Afghanistan. I asked them how they dealt with the pressure. The answers varied, but interestingly all included three themes:

     1. Taking care of themselves

What we always hear from Ashley in PACE: sleep, nutrition, exercise—really important to managing stress.

    2. Distraction

All of them brought up distracting themselves with fun in their lives or intensely focusing on the details of their work to avoid thinking about the pressure.

     3. Accepting that they do something difficult

Allowing themselves to have emotions, take breaks, and process that their work is hard is crucial to working with stress.

I don’t profess to have the answers. Everyone has a different way of coping with stress (I personally run down my street as hard as I can until I tire myself out), but working in a job we feel passionate about is a good first step. The second, and in some ways harder, is managing our workplace stress.

How do you manage your work pressure? Let me know in the comments.


Works Cited

“1/3 of your life is spent at work.” Gettysburg College, 2019, Accessed 29 April 2019.

“A Meaningful Job Linked to Higher Income and a Longer Life.” Association For Psychological Science, 3 January 2017, Accessed 10 May 2019.

de Haaff, Brian. “People Who Love to Work Live Longer, According to Science.”, 20 May 2016, Accessed 29 April 2019.

Goh, Joel, Jeffrey Pfeffer, and Stefanos Zenios. Exposure To Harmful Workplace Practices Could Account For Inequality In Life Spans Across Different Demographic Groups.” Health Affairs, vol. 34, no. 10, 2015, Accessed 10 May 2019.

Emily Anderson is a first-year MBA candidate at Willamette University. She is a 2017 graduate of Gonzaga University, where she received her B.A. in International Studies. Emily enjoys PACE because of the opportunity to learn valuable career information, improve her analytical and speaking skills, and build partnerships with not-for-profits in Oregon.


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  1. 3 Comment(s)

  2.   By Heba Saleh on May 21, 2019 | Reply

    To be honest, despite the stress that PACE caused for us before each presentation, it is the most wonderful experience I had at Willamette. I had amaaaaaaaaazing PACE teams -yup, I had 2 PACE teams🙈😂- and I’ve learned a lot during this class. I really do appreciate all professor Larry’s efforts so we got the maximum benefits we could have.

  3.   By Wedding Vings on Jun 19, 2019 | Reply

    Impressive and interesting information. Thanks for shared and enjoyed reading this post.

  4.   By Desertpearl on Dec 27, 2019 | Reply

    great thoughts

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