The Invisibles: Celebrating the Unsung Heroes of the Workplace by David Zweig looks at the psychology, methodology, and characteristics of those who excel in their work while rarely being noticed. Vignettes in the book include an expert piano tuner, an anesthesiologist, structural engineers, a United Nations interpreter, a ghost writer, and many others, including the author himself who became fascinated with the role of invisible workers through his work as a journalistic fact-checker.
The primary focus of the book is that of finding intrinsic (inherent, from within one’s self) reward from the work one does rather than seeking extrinsic rewards like recognition, fame, or wealth, and about the people who work in the background without recognition doing critical work with a huge impact on society.
The lessons in the book were well illustrated with stories and common themes in career choices, and well backed up by the social sciences. The main takeaways for me were:
- That lasting intrinsic reward comes by challenging ones self, and external rewards like money and recognition tend to come from personal drive and devotion to intrinsic goals. There is often a better chance that success will find you if you keep plugging away with your work, doing things because they’re rewarding to you rather than burning energy trying to garner attention for yourself.
- Research shows there is a strong correlation with relishing responsibility, or learning to do so, and personal fulfillment. People are happier when they are pursuing significant goals, such as career advancement, and are making progress toward them – taking responsibility is part of the commitment and effort that meaningful career goal pursuit requires.
- Being subordinate doesn’t reduce your importance to the overall enterprise or your stature within it. True leadership and responsibility perhaps, come from viewing one’s self as part of a team, viewing your work as always in service of the endeavor. Recognition, and singularly focusing on advancement don’t bring lasting fulfillment. Dignity and reward come from a devotion to expertise and your commitment to the work itself.
- A gratifying life seems to correlate strongly with following these three words – “Be more curious.” – We receive pleasure from learning new skills, from completing projects, from doing excellent work, or on improving the quality of our work.
- If you have a pride and confidence in what you do the rewards you reap come from within, which are perhaps the only true and lasting rewards. Pride, as respect for yourself, your work, your effort, is just an extension of the invisible core trait of drawing fulfillment from the work itself, not outside acknowledgement for it.
Be More Curious
In regards to the ritual and work of the craft, be more curious – take the time to dig into the words and understand their meaning, learn the floorwork and where it comes from or why you’re doing it. Learn ritual, perform it well, and take pride in doing so. While it would be rare to perform exemplary ritual and not receive compliments or thanks, the performance and understanding themselves are sufficient reward for a satisfying experience in the craft, especially when functioning as a member of a team that is similarly motivated.
The Fellowcraft Degree also admonishes us to better ourselves through learning. We are specifically to learn skills of communication, of critical thought, of the sciences. As an extension, we are also to learn about ourselves, our God, and our world. Learning is foundational to the entire concept of the craft, given the Freemasonry evolved from a system of imparting the working knowledge of stonemasons and itself is structured around the progressive degrees of moral and philosophical instruction.
The Right Motivations
As mentioned above, great intrinsic reward comes from faithfully executing responsibility, and the pursuit and achievement of significant goals provide significant positive motivation and reward. Advancing through a the line of officers in lodge, participating in grand lodge committees, or even progressing through the grand line, are all great if your goal is the work those positions enable you to perform. Seeking those positions for the title, accolade, or attention are unhealthy, provide fleeting reward, and do a disservice to the organization. I would speculate that title-seeking will also create a higher degree of “imposter syndrome” (as mentioned in the post about The Art of Asking) as you’ll feel your claim to the rewards of the position will not be based on merits you can take pride in.
On the other hand, if your motivation comes from a desire to model excellent work, to inspire brothers, to effect change, or even simply to step up and do the job to the best of your ability, you are likely to have a much more rewarding experience whether you receive recognition or not.
Do The Work
Every now and then on Reddit or in private conversations I hear about people who joined the craft and became disillusioned because they weren’t receiving the masonic experience they had hoped for. Many times they believe in the organization but have had poor individual experiences.
If you had a great experience, you should be doing your absolute best to pass that along to new brothers. Complacency in lodge work steals that experience from our new brothers. Whether you’re new to the craft and trying to learn as you go or have a 50-year pin and have been through the line twice, do the work to the best of your ability every time. If you’re just learning it, there will be no shortage of brothers to help you along the way. Do the best you can every time and lodge will be a genuinely more rewarding experience.
Beyond doing the work in lodge, we are taught as masons about the value of work in our lives, about being industrious, having fortitude, zeal, fervency. We are given tools to master ourselves in these respects. These are the means by which we can truly have a meaningful and rewarding existence and by which we can leave a legacy of excellence. I really enjoyed this recent blog post about the Beehive on The Royal Art blog and the interpretation of its lesson as treating diligence as a virtue. Please go check it out – it is definitely a great lesson that ties in very closely with the themes of this book.
The idea of this (Non-)Masonic Book Review series of posts is to take a look at books from all sorts of genres and see what can be extracted and applied to Freemasonry, or how the ideas can be coupled with those from Freemasonry for an enriched Masonic experience or personal development. In most cases the ideas in the books are extrapolated upon from my own personal experience in the craft. These reviews are not necessarily endorsements of the books (as tastes may vary), but are an attempt to extract value from them for a Masonic audience. This content is my own and is not endorsed by nor necessarily representative of my or any other Grand Lodge or other Masonic body.