Labor Day and Its Meaning

The national holiday we celebrate on Monday is a good time for reflection on why we work and what we derive from it. The answer should be that it gives your life energy and meaning. If it doesn’t, you should change that.

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. Summer trips wind down, students leave for college and football season gears up. In the South particularly, where I live, we anticipate the cooler days of fall with enthusiasm. The long weekend is marked for rest and recreation as we ponder the meaning and significance of labor and work.

The Central Labor Union organized the first Labor Day in 1882. Aimed at promoting trade unions, parades and festivals amused workers and their families. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, a welcome addition to fill the gap between Independence Day and Thanksgiving.

Most agree that meaningful work is a major component of human well being. It does not matter whether the work is paid, volunteer or pro- bono, or work at home to nurture a family. Work matters.

A human being without purpose is a lost soul. “A life well-lived” is the stuff of advertising, self-help books and the psychiatrist’s couch. The scientists at the Gallup organization have been exploring the subject since the mid-20th century. A not-so-startling finding: Our happiness and feelings of well-being are a function of liking what we do each day.

As Tom Rath and Jim Harter explain in their book, Well Being: The Five Essential Elements (Gallup Press, 2010), “At a fundamental level, we all need something to do, and ideally something to look forward to, when we wake up each day. What you spend your day doing each day shapes your identity, whether you are a student, parent, volunteer, retiree or have a more conventional job.”

That makes sense. Yet only 20% gave a strong “yes” when Gallup researchers asked over and over, “Do you like what you do each day?”  If 80% are unhappy with daily activities, the rest of their life is likely to be out of whack. Certainly, financial well-being will suffer; so will physical, social and community well-being.

Ask someone what well-being means to them and most, guys especially, will focus on money and physical fitness. But if you are to successfully navigate a life transition, relationships and social connections, and your sense of place, that you are where you belong in terms of where you live and work and interact with friends and people, and your spiritual home, are key components of well-being. In other words, career, financial, physical, social, and community well-being are part of a balanced continuum.

Authors Rath and Harter also wrote the national bestseller, StrengthsFinder 2.0. Propaganda extolling workers, plus many union labels and graphics, incorporate symbols of strength. StrengthsFinder, personal introspection widely applied in business and churches, indicates that, when well-being suffers, when you are unhappy with your day, you are not applying your strengths. You may have a job or assigned task, but are you in the right role?

When you reinforce God-given talent with knowledge and skill, you have a strength. A talent is a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior productively applied. A skill is the ability to move through the fundamental steps of a task. Knowledge is what we know.

A strength, then, is a powerful, productive combination of talent, skill and knowledge. When you are doing anything from strength, you feel it, you know it, and you love it. Boredom and frustration have no place in your day.

This Labor Day weekend, if you want to recalibrate and infuse your life with new energy, a revitalized sense of purpose, and a sense of holistic well-being, read the these two short but powerful books.

Take the assessment offered and then talk to an advisor familiar with the StrengthsFinder process. Financial advisors focused on life transitions planning increasingly are using diagnostics and alliances with coaches to increase their own sense of well-being, along with that of their clients.

Winifred Holtby (1898-1935) was an English novelist and journalist, best known for her novel South Riding. Her epitaph reads, “God give me work, till my life shall end, And life, till my work is done.” After you say grace at your Labor Day picnic, add Winifred’s prayer to your wishes and resolutions.

Happy Labor Day.

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Lewis Walker, CFP, is president of Walker Capital Managemen, LCC in Peachtree Corners, Ga. Securities and certain advisory services offered through The Strategic Financial Alliance Inc. (SFA). Lewis Walker and Mike Hostetler are registered representatives of the SFA, which is otherwise unaffiliated with Walker Capital Management. 770-441-2603. [email protected].

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