“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” –Winston Churchill
When I think about what constitutes “meaningful work”, I suppose it to be relative to every individual. I believe one of the greatest aspects of life is the opportunity given to each and every person to grow and learn from their life experiences. Though no one’s life is the same as another’s, I believe that it is everyone’s moral obligation to find meaningful work so that they can, in turn, find purpose in their life. The question of what exemplifies “meaningful work” is rather subjective to the individual, but in my opinion, it does necessitate universal requirements. Meaningful work must operate as a greater purpose for every individual, foster personal development, and serve as a provision for the greater good holistically. Ultimately, by finding meaningful work, we then can establish a better sense of autonomy in our lives, as well as find happiness along the way.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve been given is that failure builds character—many times you learn more from failure than from success. When I think about meaningful work and how it encompasses character, I imagine that the best lessons are those that allow for growth. I don’t believe that there is any one, written in stone, sure-fire way to pursue “meaningful work”. Rather, I believe that a well-rounded and versed character is one that will allow for passions and skills to better flourish and foster positive development. I am a strong believer that experiencing life and all it has to offer is invaluable in terms of a career. Unless you are the person that is born knowing you want to grow up to be a doctor and believe whole-heartedly that your purpose is just that, we must then learn to experience life as opportunities arise.
When finding purpose in our work, dedication, desire and skill all come into play. Balance and moderation are both essential in the search for our purposeful work. What I mean by this is that we mustn’t pursue a passion without a basic set of skills simply because it’s a “passion”. Rather, we must pursue something that requires our unique skills to be built upon. Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, believes that passions are rare and that we must start with our basic skills. “Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion,” (Newport 13). I do believe, however, that certain things in life can be taught to an extent. A great example of this is a child who grows up wanting to be a professional athlete but is very clumsy and does not have any experience of the game. Of course the child can be taught fundamentals and rules of the sport but without the right amount of skill and dedication to learning the game, then the child most likely will not succeed in attaining his “dream”. Nevertheless, the possibility of the child pursuing a career in sports management or participating in an intramural/intercollegiate sport could be a great outlet for the child to explore while still staying in the same type of work.
Finding a greater purpose for our work must first resonate and reside within the individual. Whether it be working for a nonprofit agency to help those in need or simply having your business cook with only organic foods, meaningful work can be found in many aspects of our lives, which in turn, result in a more purposeful career. By truly finding what brings us happiness in our labor, we then can foster personal development through our everyday tasks. By having a sense of connection to those around us (our community; society), we are more apt to feelings of a sense of belonging and happiness. The author of Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, Tom Rath, states that community wellbeing is among the five essential elements to one’s wellbeing. “People with high Community Wellbeing feel safe and secure where they live. They take pride in their community,” he said. “This often results in their wanting to give back and make a lasting contribution to society,” (Rath & Harter 103-104). Meaningful work cannot solely serve purpose for the individual—it must also serve the community as a whole.
Personal development, community service, and personal growth are all necessary aspects of what constitutes meaningful work. I believe that meaningful work is more than just a nine-to-five office job. As I stated before, purpose is seen in our passions and our dedication to the work we choose to pursue. Autonomy must be present in our jobs and must not compromise our values. There are a plethora of studies that suggest happiness brings about a greater sense of autonomy and performance. Julia K. Boehm and Sonja Lyubomirsky, authors of Does Happiness Promote Career Success?, found that “organizational citizenship behavior” was multifaceted and contributed to employees having greater performance in the work place and overall a greater sense of belonging in their career field of choice (Happiness and Career Success, Boehm 3-4).
Happiness in our work is not necessarily a feeling that exists in a single moment in time. Rather, I believe that it is a continuous process that must be cultivated. Although I believe that happiness exists in certain instants of our lives, our careers are much more complex and should be given greater significance in the search for meaningful work. It is unlikely that you will succeed at everything you do the first time you try it. By using the skills you naturally acquire to fine-tune your meaningful work will help you to attain a greater sense of happiness and autonomy because you know that you can excel in what you are doing. Certain skills you may or may not have that apply to a particular job can always be taught. However, it is a lot easier for someone to do a task if they are more naturally inclined to succeed by doing so. An example of this is an employer hiring a prospective accounting employee that naturally enjoys and finds math easier to accomplish, as compared to someone who favors a more artistic approach to work and enjoys creative tasks like writing or creating content. Skills must align with our passions and both must coexist and work hand-in-hand.
`While there are many tips and tricks to achieve meaningful work, wellbeing must serve to balance and moderate our lives not only personally, but socially and financially, as well. It is well known that our basic, fundamental human needs must be met in order for us to survive. Beyond these basic necessities, we must find stability in our social groups such as our friendships and community involvement. Finances also make a huge impact on our stress levels, which in turn effect our physically wellbeing. Everything in our lives must be balanced and done in moderation. When the needs of our wellbeing are met, it is much easier for us to assess our personal and professional goals. In order for us to follow a goal in life, there must be meaning and purpose behind our choices.
The quest for finding “meaningful work” is just that—a journey. The great thing about life is that there is no crystal ball telling us what our purpose in life is and the steps we have to take in order to find meaningful work. Choice is something that is given to us, and in terms of career choice, it should be well assessed and built upon personal growth and autonomy, as well has a greater sense of purpose for the community and personal wellbeing. Happiness is a process and should be found in the work we choose to do. We should not simply follow our “passion” without having a basic set of skills associated with it (as there are people out there for those particular jobs). Even though life isn’t always black and white, that should not hinder us in finding our calling. We must find balance in everything that we do and our actions should not be without reason. Opportunities arise so that we may find new outlets in our career to explore. Making the best of every situation will only help us in finding our true purpose of meaningful work. Happiness then is not a single event; rather, it is a lifetime of encounters.
Newport, Cal. So Good They Can’t Ignore You: why skills trump passion in the quest for
work you love. London: Piatkus , 2016. Print.
Rath, Tom, and James K. Harter. Wellbeing: the five essential elements. New York, NY:
Gallup Press, 2014. Print.