The Virtues of a Contented Inner Work Life

Work is more rewarding when we bring a higher sense of meaning to the day's labor
By Jeff Garton
Jeff Garton
Jeff Garton
November 12, 2021 Updated: November 12, 2021

Your inner work life, or thoughts about work, supply your motivation and the empowering virtues you demonstrate while working.

Virtues are the desirable values and characteristics that you have the potential of demonstrating on the job. They help supply your motivation to do good work and contribute to a business’s favorable impressions of you. Here are a few examples:

  • Respect and self-worth arising from earning your pay and caring for your family.
  • Fulfillment derived from utilizing your time and talents productively.
  • Dependability in continuing to meet deadlines and commitments.
  • Contentment created by fulfilling your authentic purposes for working.
  • Resilience in dealing with challenges and disappointments.
  • Joy and pleasure in applying yourself and doing your best.
  • Pride associated with accomplishing results and demonstrating value.
  • Responsibility and integrity earned while delivering on your promises.
  • Resourcefulness when making the best use of what you have.

At first glance, you might mistake these virtues for intrinsic job satisfaction. But realize that businesses control jobs and the means to satisfy. So to link the virtues to what businesses control would suggest they control your virtues as well. They don’t.

Remember the virtues are the manifestation of your good character, something only you can control. And by exercising control of these virtues, you benefit from them regardless of whether you’re made satisfied or not.

For instance, out of necessity there may be times when you have to take a job you don’t want or stay longer in a job you don’t like. In these cases, there’s a good chance that you will find yourself dissatisfied at some point. When you do, you still control the ability to exercise the virtues associated with doing the best you can under difficult circumstances.

Here’s why this is important. Virtues have the potential of arousing the emotions that fuel your self-motivation to persevere despite the dissatisfactions you sometimes can’t control. That’s the whole idea of career contentment.

Career contentment is aroused when you think your work is meaningful to your most important purposes for working. It supplies your motivation to stay in a job you want and the resilience to cope with dissatisfactions when doing so fulfills your purposes.

Despite its self-sustaining powers to facilitate employee motivation, productivity, and retention, career contentment isn’t on the radar screens of businesses. It’s not even a part of their vocabulary.

This is because businesses no longer emphasize the virtues that employees control. In the past, businesses would inspire the motivation and loyalty of employees by emphasizing the virtues of a good job and an honest day’s work.

Businesses now emphasize their control of work conditions and care of employees. They’re improving employee experience by keeping them engaged, providing continuous support, and facilitating their life balance.

This is all good except for one thing: Employees don’t work just for employer-controlled job satisfactions. They realize these satisfactions are here today but could be gone tomorrow. They work for—and are motivated by—the virtues of working they control.

Consider an unpaid volunteer. They don’t work to be made satisfied. They work to fulfill their noble purposes. Doing so fuels joy, pleasure, self-respect, contentment, and pride that motivate their resilience to persevere despite the lack of a paycheck or benefits.

The same can be said about paid employees who choose their work and commit to the pursuit and fulfillment of their authentic purposes for working. And to stay on track with their evolving purposes, they make job and career changes without regard to whether they’re being made satisfied or not.

There’s nothing wrong with businesses placing emphasis on their control of satisfying work conditions and the care of employees. But there is something wrong when businesses don’t place equal emphasis on an employee’s control of their career contentment when doing so can sustain them even if dissatisfactions occur.

The proposition that businesses will make you satisfied in exchange for your time and talents is essential. But this can also contribute to an entitled mindset that motivates complaints and resignations when employees don’t get what they want.

There’s little to be gained by focusing employees on what they can’t control and may contribute to their dissatisfaction. But there is value in helping employees cope with their dissatisfaction by focusing their attention on controlling what they can—their thoughts and the empowering virtues of a contented inner work life.

Jeff Garton is a Milwaukee-based author, certified career coach, and former HR executive and training provider. He holds a master’s degree in organizational communication and public personnel administration. He is the originator of the concept and instruction of career contentment. Twitter: @ccgarton

Jeff Garton