What I am seeing in my practice are clients willing to swap money in exchange for meaningful work. In the past, work was regarded as a means to support oneself and a family. Today, we expect a job to be more than just a paycheck. Work is being recognized as a way to grow not only financially, but professionally and personally as well. We aspire to work that gives us meaning, identity, creativity, pleasure and allows us to fulfill our purpose. The problem is this. Employees want to make a living doing something meaningful, while the employer’s priority is profit often at the expense of creating meaningful work. Companies are not in the business of designing meaningful jobs. Work can be a blessing, a curse or somewhere in between. Can you really have both?
The Nature of Work
In today’s economy, most jobs are repetitive, inflexible and often an uncreative way to make a living. In many ways, technology is fueling the increase in boring work – staring into a computer all day can be mind-numbing. Corporations reward conformity not individuality. Meaningless work is an energy suck and can ruin many a good person. It can take a real toll, turning you into a “Work Zombie” – someone physically present, but is emotionally, spiritually and intellectually absent.
For millions of Americans a job is merely a means to an end that meets some other need other than work. People do their jobs and go home to find meaning in hobbies, learning, family, friends, houses of worship, or leisure activities. However, work that is authentic and significant must be an integral part of our life, rather than an activity that is segmented during the day to make money to support our life outside of work. Because we spend more time at work than in any other aspect of our life including sleep, the work we do largely determines our emotional well-being and often our intellectual and spiritual fulfillment. Clearly, you are more than your job, but to a large extent, you are what you do all day long. Consider this, “Is it possible to live a happy life, if we spend the majority of our day doing work that doesn’t make us happy?”
For some the meaning of life lies in the accumulation of wealth and material possessions. The attraction of money can be hard to resist. It can lure or seduce us into jobs devoid of meaning by the promise of a high salary, benefits, status, or power. In an attempt to avoid the pain of unchallenging or dull work, many seek to overcompensate through a life based on having. Material possessions can give the illusion of security in an unsecure world. Most Americans have bought into the following myth: the harder you work, the more money you make and the happier you will be. Unfortunately, money is a poor long-term motivator. Often when we achieve material abundance, we discover that it doesn’t satisfy our souls. Please don’t trade your precious time for dollars. Everyone needs a base level of income to pay the bills, but focusing on money rarely brings meaning. Money is not a bad thing, but it’s the love of money that separates us from true meaning. At some point you will ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? or Is this all there is?”
The meaning of life is not to accumulate stuff, but rather to make a difference. Dr. King put it so aptly when he said, “Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” This is true in my practice where most clients yearn to do work that is for the greater good. When you devote your working hours and energy to contributing to something larger than yourself, you reduce self-absorption and meaning emerges. Often with professional help, you can discover what that larger purpose should be.
The people that are truly passionate about their work are a very small percentage of the population. Finding a job that is consistent with a sense of meaning is a difficult job. The task begins when you become aware of your inner self through a deliberate process of reflection. It comes down to clearly identifying your core values and top priorities. If your V.I.P.S. (Values, Interests, Personality Traits and Skills) are not in alignment with what you are doing, you will experience disappointment and emptiness on the job. If you are not able to merger your true self with your life’s work, the result will be stress and anxiety. This persistent dissatisfaction will continue to rise to the surface until it is properly addressed. It can become intolerable. It may eventually manifest itself in an act of “Rage Quit.” I often hear from my clients, “This work is just not who I am!”
If you want to live an authentic life, devote your valuable time to the difficult pursuit of what you were meant to do with your life. Anything less and you will not reach your potential. In her book, I Don’t Know What I Want But I Know It’s Not This, Julie Jansen outlined ten types of meaning. Which of the following have the most meaning for you: 1) Rewards and Challenges, 2) Interesting Field or Industry, 3) Expressing Ideals and Values, 4) Contributing/Making a Difference, 5) Solving Problems, 6) Changing Your Lifestyle, 7) Feeling Passionate, 8) Supporting a Cause, 9) Innovating/Creating, or 10) Learning. If you can’t find the job of your dreams today that’s okay, but get clarity on your ideal job and then begin working toward it for the next several years. Set a goal to do just one thing each week that will help you reach the job that will be the most meaningful to you. Consider going back to school, working for yourself, joining a socially responsible corporation, exploring non-profit organizations, or an employee-owned company.
When work is stimulating and fun, you tend to be more productive. It can bring out the best in you. If you strive for money, you will rarely find what you are really looking for. Put simply: It’s a shallow way to live. If you strive for meaning, you will probably get both meaning and money. If you love your work, you will love your life. Have the courage to do what you were meant to do.