What gainful employment ‘should’ do for you

I love good questions. Received this one yesterday:

“What is ‘gainful employment’ — how should we be defining it?”

Well, the word ‘should’ sends up red flags for me, and I prefer to answer with another question, not to dodge the issue, but to better frame it: How do you want to define it? What can our gainful employment be about?

Focus on what you truly want

‘Want’ reckons with a more personal and individual desire so we can narrow things down, and better focus on a more helpful answer, because ‘gainful employment’ is pretty big, with options possible in both the employment part of it (the differences between job, occupation, career, vocation is just a start) and in what ‘gainful’ means to us. What do we want to gain?

“This is the true joy in life ” being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one ” being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy ” I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing on to future generations.”
George Bernard Shaw

This “true joy in life” Shaw describes is inspiring to me, and I’m impatient — it’s something I want now, and not later. Thus, my answer is that I want to gain the feelings of well-being possible in Ho‘ohana work versus a job. I work on that first as my driver, simultaneously working to have it pay off (with income that will sustain my lifestyle: Prepping for Ho‘ohana with Financial Literacy).

But that’s my answer. It’s great for me, and hopefully Ho‘ohana can become great for you (it’s my core how-to theme here on Talking Story), but it’s not what everyone looks for at any given time, or feels they need. And it’s okay to look for other things — it’s your work, after all is said and done, and not mine. You know what it will take to help you feel good about the work you do.

So again, how do you want to define it? What is your relevance in defining what gainful must mean for you?

I Wanted Wings

Have reasonable expectations

What you have to be aware of however, is that when you work for someone else, they pay you to work with, and for them, and the question becomes “How do we want to define it?” with the answer up to them more than up to you. When you accept a job with them, you agree. That’s just the way it is.

You still do have a choice of course. Choose the right job (yes, even in the current economy — don’t be a willing victim; a lesser job fit now should be temporary as you keep looking). It’s right enough for you, because you largely do agree with the definition of gainful employment your employer offers you in his or her company.

We usually talk about that choice as a choice of values you’ll subscribe to, because deeply held values drive the m.o. of a company; they can be a kind of guarantee of predictable behavior in the workplace.

But if that gets confusing for you — you aren’t sure what their values are, or they aren’t as apparent as they could be — the focus on what you want to gain can help you. Make your search for gainful employment personal. It will be the work you do.

If you can be specific (and honest with yourself) about what ‘gainful’ means to you, the employment options available are likely to become increasingly clear. You can then ask yourself, “Will this employment prospect deliver what I want to gain?” about each prospect coming your way.

When the right options become clearer for you (in this mirror of what you truly want), your choices get much easier along the journey.

Whatever your answers, work on what feels right for you personally. Trust in your gut feelings and intuition about it. Keep in mind the fact that gainful employment connects to your energy, like a battery pack, for your own energy is the most important resource you have (it helps you gain everything else).

Then, when you want to work within Ho‘ohana, I’ll be here to help.

Ground level rubble

~ ~ ~ MY MANA‘O (what I believe to be true) ~ ~ ~

In Hawai‘i, many kÅ«puna (elders) will say there is a reason our gut is at our physical center.

Our heads and hearts must come lower; one must get out of the clouds and the other out of the clutches of others.

Second, the elemental feeling we get from the land under our feet must rise up and be held in higher esteem, for there is divine power in the ‘āina (the earth), and it is our sense of place, and our home.

Third, we must care about others, but we must care about ourselves first, and enough to connect to our own source, our Aloha.

So it is only natural that our gut (na‘au) is the true seat of our wisdom (na‘auao), for it is where all these things come together to center us with good balance. Trusting in our intuition, is a form of listening as we should, to tap into that balance (which is pono).

This makes a lot of sense to me, because I experience it so much, and very gratefully so.


  1. says

    My focus on this one last year was what the word “gainful” means. I had to decide between gaining money and gaining satisfaction in the job and gaining personal happiness with my personal life. The three weren’t all working out to happen at the same time any more.
    I did a lot of talking about it with my other half and we decided that the money part was nice, but it wasn’t the most important part… Gaining in that area at the expense of the others wasn’t working any more. It’d worked for a while and it’d allowed us to accomplish some goals we’d had but, accomplishing those goals, when we re-evaluated… What I wanted to gain from work was a feeling of satisfaction in a job well done, and feeling like I was making a difference. I wasn’t getting that at the position I was at, and the position that I felt like I could make the biggest difference was a level DOWN. Intentionally going down was a big deal for me. I’d never done it before. It’s not done often I don’t think and my biggest fear about it was that the third leg, personal happiness was going to be the only thing that went up (mainly because I’d be home more.).
    They say you can’t cross the same river twice… you can’t ever go home. I had a legitimate, I think, fear that I wouldn’t be able to go from being king of all I surveyed (I went from everything we had East of the Mississippi plus Texas (20 stores) to 12, to finally just the one smallish store with only 3 employees. That’s a big jump. Would I be bored? Would I be able to do the daily grunt work of the store when before I was always on the go, alway stamping out fires, no two days were alike. Manager of a small store has a lot of days that are alike… would I be able to adjust to that and feel like I was gainfully employed professionally or would I feel wasted and bored?
    I lucked out in that I don’t feel that way at all. I’m excited and having a ball managing, more than I have in a long time at the previous position. I don’t envy my boss in the least. He can keep it. I wonder if a position comes open would they offer it to me, and if I’d take it now. I don’t know the answer to that. I’m really loving what I’m doing now. I feel gainfully employed in that I’m more personally and professionally satisfied without being more financially satisfied.
    Knowing what one hopes to gain is an important part of knowing if they’re gainfully employed… and then talking to the employer about whether or not those needs will be met.
    One of my interview questions is aimed at that… what is most motivating for a potential employee? Pay me more and I’ll do more? Appreciate/recognize what I did and I’ll do more? Co-workers helping out and working together I’ll work all day? Work by myself best just give me a list and leave me alone? What works best on YOU? kind of thing… that’s an important question for an employee to know about themselves… it’s also an important thing for an employer to know about their employees. If you don’t know the button they want pushed how can you push it? If the button they want is one you’re not going to push (That pay me now for more work later… not a great button in my book. I like to reward performance, not pay now and hope for it later.) that’s good to know too. Be up front about what you expect. It makes it easier on everybody involved.

    • Rosa Say says

      Good for you Rich. It should be easy to make these changes which are best for us, but no, it’s tough, and I greatly admire your courage. I’m thrilled too, that you’re so happy with where you are now.

      And now, you’re doing for others what you’ve done for yourself: I like the motivation questions you ask during interviews; they are so much better than that run-of-the-mill “tell me about your goals.”