Ariely’s ideas do resonate with me a lot. In one of my class’s last semester, we actually talked a lot about Marx’s concept of the alienation of labor. One thing from that class that I really remember and that Ariely delved into a little bit was the relationship between this alienation and search for meaning in one’s work and the worker’s ability to reproduce their labor power. When a worker feels alienated, they become unwilling (consciously or otherwise) to maximize the labor power they are physically capable of and vice versa.
In both my schoolwork and my DukeEngage work, the biggest things that make me feel good in my work have been performance-related results and feedback and a sense of trust and connection. I tend to work harder on an essay or a report when I know that my professor or mentor gives good, thorough feedback rather than just a checkmark or a letter grade because it feels like they are actually reading my work and thinking critically about ways I can improve. Constructive criticism and feedback makes my work feel meaningful because it makes me feel like my professors and mentors have high expectations for me and I want to meet and exceed those expectations for theirs and my own sake. Moreover, when I feel a genuine connection and develop a strong working relationship between my professor or mentor, I also become more personally invested in my work and have greater intrinsic motivation. And I think all of this creates a positive feedback loop where I become willing to work harder because I’m more invested and I become more invested because of the higher effort I’m putting in. On the other hand, when one of my mentors had to skip a couple meetings with me because they were backlogged with their other work, even understanding their situation, I couldn’t help but feel less motivated since it felt like they didn’t really need me for anything and that my work wasn’t very important since we could afford to postpone the meetings.
If I had to choose between my DukeEngage work and schoolwork, I would say DukeEngage has been a more meaningful work experience because in my schoolwork, I feel so distant and separated from the goal. A good grade is such an abstract, arbitrary concept that doesn’t inherently generate anything in and of itself. In contrast, I know my work at Saath helps to deliver a positive social impact to real people. Furthermore, in my DukeEngage there is a greater sense of trust and reliance than in my schoolwork. In my DukeEngage work, I know that my mentors are depending on and placing their faith in me to get my deliverables done on time and to do a good job on them. A professor, especially one with many students, doesn’t have that same sort of built in trust and dependence. They are not particularly affected either way if you get a good or bad grade and thus don’t have that same sense of expectation and faith that I think people—or at least I—crave.