min read

Transformational vs. transactional work

Jess Eddy - articles and writing

Will you look back at this time & be happy how you spent it?

Most of us spend a lot of time at work. If we're lucky and good at what we do, we have some options where to work. And sometimes, we get stuck. Maybe we feel like we're not getting much out of our job, whether personal growth or doing the kind of work we wish to be doing. Good jobs, like good relationships, balance giving and receiving; we can build and grow when we have a sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging.

Our environment matters

Our particular setting impacts our ability to feel meaning, grow, and strike the right balance of giving and receiving. Whether it be the work we're doing or the people around us, we can feel when it's right and out of sorts. Maybe we cannot expect a perfect balance all of the time, but it should feel right consistently enough where we're not questioning our choices, heading towards burnout, or being downtrodden.

We can ask ourselves what matters to us. What's important? Learning new skills, sharpening our current ones, or exploring new areas? If we identify our needs, we can, in turn, consider if we are heading in the right direction and ultimately fulfilled. Also, we can assess our current skills (what we're good at) to understand if they are of use in our existing environment.

If we feel like we're either not getting our needs met or not putting our skills to use, there might be a mismatch in the work we're doing or the environment where we spend time.

This mismatch can make the difference between a transactional work relationship and a transformational one.

Transactional vs. transformational work

A transactional work scenario might involve trading time for money, acknowledging that we are lucky to get paid to do the work we enjoy. For some, trading time for money is enough. If it's not, we might feel like our job isn't serving our higher purpose, using our innate talents, or allowing us to evolve as a person; it can feel empty and like a waste of time.

Transformational job experiences allow us to use our skills in an environment that benefits from our talents while simultaneously opening up opportunities for personal growth. For us, this creates a loop of good feelings, purpose, and meaning, and a trajectory forward.

An experience can even be so transformational that you not only use your strengths but get better at your weaknesses, or perhaps can grow through the people you meet or new skills you learn on the job.

It's easy to stay in a transactional relationship and stay in a job past the expiration date. And we must remember that clutching onto fear might give us temporary comfort, but this is time that we cannot get back.

Time well spent

Are you living up to your standards? Can you be your personal best? Do you feel like you're positively contributing to your environment? Are you growing? Are you spending time with people that elevate you? Will you look back at this time and be happy about how you spent it?

Transformational work is possible

Finding transformational work is possible. It can take time, tinkering, networking, and experimentation. You may have to go outside your comfort zone and take some risks. It's essential to have self-awareness about what matters to you and seek out ways to find work that aligns with those traits.

On a basic but fundamental level, how we spend our time at work comes down to two things: the work we do and the people around us.

What matters to us about our work and the people we spend time with is personal and contextual. Here are some perspectives, but you should form your own.

The work we do

What allows us to do good work? 

  • Using our skills to make progress toward work we deem meaningful. 
  • Capable leadership with an easy-to-understand vision that doesn't aim so high we can't reach it.
  • Time, space, and autonomy to derive creative solutions.

The people around us

What qualities do we desire from the people around us, and what relationship dynamics do we want? 

  • People that listen to us and challenge our beliefs and assumptions.
  • People with whom we can build and maintain trust; who we help and help us.
  • People, who when team up - are much greater than the sum of their parts.

Our path forward may not always be clear, but we can know enough to know when we need to steer in a different direction, and that is always the first step. If we look at change through a positive lens, it's possible to enjoy the process even when there is discomfort in the shift. Each new experience brings us more confidence, even - and often especially - the uncomfortable ones.