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  • Writer's pictureJess Annison

Olympic-sized Meaningfulness

Friday the 27th of July, 2012. I'm not sure I'll ever forget the date of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. Having worked on the planning and delivery of the Games (and specifically, the venue security arrangements) for almost five years, this date is completely ingrained in my memory. Not least because I reminded myself of it several times a day because we usually needed to find a solution, make the decision, submit the advice... like, yesterday. Ten years on to the day, lots has changed: I'm doing very different work, in different sectors. And some things are still the same, not least my deep sense of meaningfulness in my work. Plus, I'm still hanging around Stratford and East London for my studies, enjoying the Olympic Park which just seems to get better and better with time. There are various definitions and conceptualisations of meaningful work, but one I particularly like is that of Martela and Riekki (2017) who propose that meaningful work comprises autonomy, competence, relatedness and making a positive contribution to others. And when I think back to my London 2012 days, it's no surprise I found it meaningful.


There hadn't ever been a Games in such a high-threat environment like London in 2012. And although there was lots to learn from business as usual, other countries and other events, there was no blueprint or how-to guide for venue security in that context. In my role I had a huge amount of latitude (particularly considering I was pretty wet behind the ears at the start) to use my initiative and try and carve a way through various complex and competing tensions.


At the beginning I really didn't have much clue what I was doing, but I did know I was surrounded by fantastic colleagues: experts from policing, security, event organising and elsewhere. Over time, I developed a surprising amount of knowledge about physical security measures such as perimeter systems, screening regimes and hostile vehicle mitigation (knowledge I've never used since!). But more importantly, whilst I was in that role I found my confidence in bringing great people together, creating a culture of collaboration and a structure to get the work done, and ultimately, the responsibility to make sure it all happened. I've no doubt my learning in that role set me up for everything I've achieved since.


I've already mentioned the brilliant people I was working with. But it wasn't just that they were talented. It was the fact that we were truly all on the same team, despite us coming from different organisations which often - at an institutional level - had some kind of rumbling funding and/or responsibility beef with each other. I felt so connected to my colleagues, and each of us brought something really important and valued to the table. I remember so many instances where we laughed, cried, inspired, argued and supported each other - quite often all within the same meeting!


Our shared purpose was ensuring that everyone could enjoy the Games safely and securely (and not just the sporting venues and events, but also all the supporting infrastructure and the wider cultural events). Of course, there were plenty of business cases and budgets, plans and procurements... but ultimately it came down to protecting people, and helping them to enjoy the Games.

Ten years on, it feels like a bit of a dream to me... I mean, did it even really happen? Was I there, or have I imagined it?! Using Martela and Riekki's model helps me to understand and reflect on why it was such a meaningful thing to be part of.

Reference: Martela, F., & Riekki, T. J. (2018). Autonomy, competence, relatedness, and beneficence: A multicultural comparison of the four pathways to meaningful work. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 1157.

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