This post may contain affiliate links. See our affiliate disclaimer here.
“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”- Studs Terkel
What is the definition of meaning in work?
For everyone it has a different definition. For me, meaning is a deep sense of purpose and clarity that the work you are doing will somehow impact the world in a positive way. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will wake up every day and enjoy your “calling”, but with out a doubt you know the work you do matters. The opposite of work with meaning is work that is boring, and if you didn’t do it then it would have neither a good nor bad impact on the world. In other words, it doesn’t matter.
You can be entitled to your own opinion on work, the one above is purely mine.
How to discover meaning in your own work?
First, I want to share a story with you. After graduating from college I had my sights set on being an entrepreneur who was going to build a hugely successful technology company. I wanted nothing more than to start a business, build a team, and make an awesome impact on the world. However, I decided the best way to do that was by following the crowd and joining another team. Makes sense, right? Anyway, I started in sales and learned a lot in the process about business and how things work. It ended up being a valuable learning experience, but perhaps the biggest takeaway of all was that maybe I’m not fit to sit in an office all day. I longed to do creative work, to write and I felt confined to a space that didn’t suite me. I was a fish trying to climb a tree.
I remember looking over at our marketing guy and constantly being jealous of him. He was paid to write and be creative, I wanted that! I knew the only way to fulfill this desire was to act on it, before it left me. So I started brainstorming ways I could do more writing and then came up with this idea to travel the country in an RV and do different jobs. It wasn’t that I cared so much about working in all 50 states, it was more about doing something meaningful with my life. I knew it was a process that would change me, it would force me to grow and become a better person.
Lesson: Meaningful work makes you grow, not stand still.
As I travel around and meet other people, I have discovered similar truths. Last week in Indianapolis I met two young guys with college degrees. One of them had a degree in graphic design and the other an auto mechanic’s degree. However, both of them were working at a brewery for less pay than their degrees offered, not because they couldn’t get another job, but because they found more meaning in brewing beer and doing something they enjoy. In fact, both of them had originally started out doing what they had planned on doing in college, but they learned quickly it was boring and mundane. Better a pay cut now at a young age and spend my days doing something I enjoy.
In a similar story, I met Marty at a bicycle shop in Oklahoma City. He immigrated here from Europe and spends 8-9 hours a day working on bikes. He left a salary position with the government in order to pull apart chains and degrease them (amongst other bike-related things). Marty said there was a large tradeoff in the pay when going from a government paid position to a small business hourly one, but ultimately it was worth it because his “braincells were dying” while he did “mind numbing work”.
I feel like I can empathize both with Marty and the two guys from the brewery, because I to chose a path with less pay in order to pursue more meaning. It was a scary decision at first, but one that I wouldn’t change now for the world. There will always be reasons to choose the safe route, and sometimes (when it comes to kids or having to support a family) the safe route is a smarter way to go. But for most people the safe route is chosen because of the wrong reasons, fear of failing or not being good enough.
I’m excited to announce a series I’m challenging myself to write for the month of October where I will post a new story everyday about the meaning of work for different American workers I’ve met along this journey. My goal is to give you an idea of what it means to pursue meaning in your work and how different hourly workers across America are striving to do this on their own.
If you don’t wish to receive a post from me everyday, then I would advise you to unsubscribe at the bottom of this email or page. However, if you decide to stay- I promise to give you my whole heart in this series and truly give you pieces of advice that you can walk away from and put to action in your life and work.