26 May Meaning, work, and meaning at work
I’ve had this recording playing in my mind for months. I think it’s the end of a book, sort of a send-off to my readers.
But there’s a parallel tape taunting me in the background, “What happens if you never write the book?”
The words will probably torment me forever, wondering why I never said them. And that begs the question, why am I waiting?
Because the words are different from what I normally write. Uncomfortably different.
Nevertheless, I talk to so many people who want their work to mean something. And even people who seem to be doing noble things describe similar headaches at work: politics, irritating people, bureaucracy, and a longing for things to be different. So I’ll set aside my discomfort.
Now, it makes perfect sense to want meaningful work.
Except for one thing. Work was designed for efficiency and productivity and problem-solving. That’s not unimportant. It’s just thin on existential meaning.
Yeah, because it’s still work.
Sometimes work is boring. Sometimes it’s small. Often it’s infuriating. And maybe a job is just a job. Yet none of those things imply you won’t do it well. But if we’re stuck in the trap of looking for meaning, we’re settling for disappointment.
That said, it would be both annoying and glib to say “make your work meaningful.” Maybe… but, ick.
Instead, I’ll say the words that have looping in my head for months.
Work has meaning because you’re there.
I know that sounds super sentimental, but I don’t care. Also, I need to say it… you know, in case I never finish the book.
Work has meaning because you’re there. You. Your work.
You’re the missing part of this equation. But when we judge the work we’re doing now as being less than meaningful, we miss the point. Better said, we’re always wrong. You have no idea the impact that you, and your meaning, might have this week or twenty years from now. And that has almost nothing to do with your job.
We don’t know.
So even if seems hokey, which it kind of is, it’s still true. And as my wise friend Paula reminds me, “It doesn’t have to be so serious.” Isn’t that funny? If we stop looking for meaning, everything feels lighter.
Then we can hear the delicious question that lies below the surface: Who’s going to work? A beleaguered person waiting for meaning?