Review: Make Work Matter

Make Work Matter, Michaela O’Donnell, PhD. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2021.

Summary: A book on finding meaningful work, focusing on the adaptive skills and sense of calling one needs, the character one develops, and a four-part entrepreneurial cycle for the journey.

This is a book for the person who wants to find meaningful work that has impact on our world. In the first part of the book, the author, an entrepreneur who has started businesses and directs a leadership center, talks about the places where we may feel stuck and the changing landscape of work, which she likens to white water rafting, requiring us to grab a paddle, prepare to be unprepared, navigate our own way, and even re-route the river! But it all begins with understanding calling: belonging to Christ, working toward redemption, creating, as well as our particular calling.

She then focuses on the kind of people we need to become in the new world of work. She contends we all need to embrace an entrepreneurial stance that seizes opportunity, creates value, and faces risk. The entrepreneur is rooted in relationship and O’Donnell encourages us to identify our brain trust, the people who will support us, speak truth, and share their expertise to help us along. Entrepreneurs trust their creativity, participating with God to make the world new, anticipating God’s redeemed world, and recognizing that creativity is often collaborative. And entrepreneurs are resilient, living between Good Friday and the Resurrection, which means being able to grieve our failures with hope.

Finally, O’Donnell discusses what she calls as the entrepreneurial way, really a cycle involving four actions: practicing empathy along the way, converting empathy into imagination, letting imagination fuel risk-taking, and after taking risks, reflecting. She uses the story of the Good Samaritan to show what practicing empathy along the way looks like and recounts the story of the co-founder of Kiva, Jessica Jackley, who empathized with entrepreneurial women doing amazing things with very little, and recognized the potential of small personal loans to help them do even more. The paralytic’s friends in Luke 5 practiced imagination in coming up with the idea of lowering him through to roof to get him to Jesus. Risk then says, “let’s try.” She concludes with discussing how important reflecting on where you’ve been to keep going.

O’Donnell illustrates throughout the book both from her own life (including failures, like having to re-write her dissertation) and the stories of other entrepreneurs. Each chapter concludes with an exercise. The book is designed to help those trying to discern what it means to find and pursue meaningful work in today’s marketplace. It explores both what it means to lean into our faith and calling, and the practical things we need to work on as workers, the mindset and habits that will sustain us on the rapids.

This strikes me as a valuable book at those junctures where one is taking stock, whether as a student entering the marketplace, or when one has lost a job and needs to figure out what is next, or is embarking on a career change or new venture. The book is less about job skills and more about working on who we are and the life God is inviting us into through our work. To me, this is where the real work is, where people truly flourish in work…or not.

One thought on “Review: Make Work Matter

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: December 2022 | Bob on Books

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