Objectives. Objectives of this study were (a) to compare contrasting work experiences of five persons as alternative ways individuals select and use occupational opportunities available in their environments, and (b) to examine the adaptive significance of work in their Lives.
Method. Five students in a graduate course on work and play as occupations each developed a work narrative for an adult of their choice that included how that person came to choose particular kinds of work, described the person’s current work experience, and examined the adaptive significance of work in the person’s Life. Data were gathered through observations in the persons’ work settings and through open-ended interviews. Comparative analysis of the five work narratives was completed by students and faculty members as a group.
Results. Work narratives of a fast-food restaurant manager, a Life-flight nurse, a tennis teaching pro, a financial analyst, and a manufacturer’s representative for oil field equipment illustrate contrasting perspectives on work as “escaping from seclusion,” “establishing Life work,” “enacting a family tradition, ” “getting stuck, ”and “rebuilding a Life. ” The participants who modified or combined occupational opportunities in creative ways generally found their work more rewarding than those who accepted available work opportunities as unalterable “givens.”
Conclusions. The adaptive significance of work for these persons had both short-term benefits, including intrinsic enjoyment of its activities and extrinsic benefits, such as social recognition and income, and long-term benefits of contributions to identity and contributions to purposes Larger than oneself.