After last week’s post “Is Your Work A Necessary Evil?”, you sent me dozens of long, well-written answers to my questions. THIS IS WHY I LOVE HAVING A BLOG.
But today’s post isn’t about financial freedom. Instead, I wrote this post because I found a fascinating invisible script among some answers I received this week. See if you can spot it:
- “A meaningful job might not pay as well. If (I take up a meaningful job), I would have to make significant adjustments to my current lifestyle.”
- “Maybe you want a fulfilling job; would you take a risk and quit your stable job in hopes of finding a better one?”
- “Your “purposeful” work may not always reap financial benefits. If you are running low on cash or have little reserves, you may have to put (purposeful work) aside and do “financially rewarding” work first.”
Did you spot the invisible script?
Conventional wisdom says that our “normal” work (say, working at a bank) is what we have to do to pay the bills. So that we can earn enough money, quit our normal jobs, and do “meaningful” work (like working for a nonprofit or for the Church).
But is that really the case?
Meet The Folks Who’ve Found Meaning In Their Work
Last week, I attended a talk on The Spirituality of Work conducted by a Catholic priest, Fr David Garcia. I loved it because it was so applicable to everyone, even if you aren’t religious.
Here’s the gist: We don’t have to feed the homeless or build orphanages to find fulfilment in our work. These are good and noble pursuits, but for many of us, we can also find our purpose in the work we’re doing – right here, right now.
In fact, it sounds like some of you guys already have:
- “Even if I’m financially free I’ll continue to do what I’m doing right now because this is what I’m passionate about & keeps me going daily.” – Fen T.
- “I see work as something good, something that my God has called me to.” – Nathan K.
- “It’s a job I love to do – sure, some facets of it are crap and can sometimes really challenge how you feel about it, but this job gives me purpose and fulfilment. It helps me to grow professionally and personally, and I thrive on achievement.” – Jaslyn T.
I LOVE THIS. These folks aren’t gazing wistfully at what’s “out there”. They’re loving what they do, and finding meaning in their jobs right now. And no, they aren’t necessarily working at a save-the-environment nonprofit or the United Nations.
These people have learnt how to find meaning in their normal, 9-to-5 jobs they have, right here in Singapore. During Fr Garcia’s talk last week, he laid out 3 aspects of why we work, and the meaning behind it:
We Work To Contribute To The Common Good
Let’s say you work in a coffee shop. Your labour and food helps to sustain someone else for one more day, helping them to take care of their families and live their lives. Or if you work in a factory – that plastic chair, that semiconductor, those petrochemicals – these are tangible things that (for lack of a better phrase) make the world a better place.
When I worked for an airline, I was insanely proud of my company. Sure, there were several aspects of it that I didn’t like, but I loved that every day, I was helping thousands of people travel.
Think about the company you’re working in and its bigger contribution the world. Remember that NASA janitor we talked about last week? Every single role – no matter how small – has a purpose.
It’s hard to see sometimes, especially while we’re glumly sitting at our desks on a Monday morning. But even if we hate our jobs, there’s no denying that our work – our hands and legs – contributes to the common good of this world.
(And if you’re having trouble identifying that, maybe it’s time to leave?)
We Work To Improve Our Personal Relationships
Work is another group where – like it or not – you belong to. You spend at least 40 hours a week with your coworkers – sometimes even more than your family. If you can positively touch their lives by just a little bit every day, you’ve found meaning.
I have a colleague at work whom everyone loves to be around. He’s encouraging, positive, and covers for people when they need help. When I need advice, he stops what he’s doing, listens carefully and calmly offers detailed suggestions. He’s a great role model for me to learn about cultivating personal relationships.
You don’t need to fight poverty in India or build an orphanage in Cambodia to help others. And while it’s great to reach out to the marginalised folks in society, maybe the person who needs your help could also be sitting right next to you.
We Work To Become Better People
What we do fundamentally changes who we are. For example, let’s say you pointed a gun at someone and tried to shoot. Even if you missed, your identity has now been changed to “someone who attempted murder”.
Likewise, whatever job we do fundamentally changes us.
I had a friend who worked in the finance industry, and slowly, he felt his personality changing: Becoming ultra-competitive, disrespecting women, and dropping F-bombs in every other sentence. Also, the work he did caused him to view the world as a zero-sum game: If he wins, someone else had to lose. He left his job after a couple of years because he didn’t like who he was becoming.
In contrast, think about a taxi driver who does an honest day’s work, helps his elderly passengers out of the car, and reads to his daughter when he gets home. The things he does every day fundamentally makes him a good person – he doesn’t have to quit his job and save the dolphins to do that.
Think back to your first day of work. What kind of person were you? What were your mental models, your skills, your personality? Now compare the old you to yourself today – are you a better person than when you first started out?
Maybe It’s Just A Millennial Thing (Or Maybe It’s Not)
Woah. This got a little heavy towards the end, didn’t it?
Those of you who know me know that I’m really not into the whole feel-good, life-coachey type of advice. But I do feel very strongly about the nature of work.
Our parents’ generation didn’t have these sort of conversations. They’d tell us to shut up, be happy that we have a job, and bring home that paycheque. But today, we millennials don’t just want a paycheque, we want our lives to have meaning.
We don’t have to search for some metaphysical level of “fulfilment”, eat-pray-love style, by quitting our jobs and fighting hunger in Africa. No. I’d argue that most of us can work “normal” jobs, earn a decent living, and still find fulfilment, meaning and purpose.
Agree/disagree? Let me know in the comments below.
Inspiration: “The Spirituality of Work” – Rev Fr David Garcia, OP