How meaningful is your work? How meaningful do you want it to be? In a recent Gallup poll, 70% of people said their work was not meaningful. On the one hand, that number is alarming. Seventy percent of workers spend half of their waking hours doing something that brings no meaning. On the other hand, should our work be meaningful?
At a very minimum, our work is meaningful because, for most of us, it enables us to feed, clothe, and house us and our families. For many of us, it gives us purpose and focus. We have to get up in the morning and be somewhere and do something. Without that, we often become aimless and dissatisfied.
And then there’s the question of whether we live to work or work to live. Some say it’s a generational thing—that Baby Boomers live to work while Millennials work to live. I actually don’t see it that way. Yes, Millennials want to have more balance in their lives. However, Millennials are increasingly demanding that their jobs have meaning and that their companies are socially responsible. In this sense, their jobs bring greater meaning, doing something that reaches beyond themselves.
I ask you to think about your work—deeply—and contemplate how much meaning it really does have. I think all of our work has meaning in one way or another. A bus driver enables people to get places. A web designer helps people communicate messages. A word processor may even help save lives, especially if he or she works for a company that builds medical devices, or a shipping company that delivers life-saving equipment to hospitals, or a law firm that litigates tort law, or a school department that educates children and keeps them off the streets.
I watch the elderly people in my neighborhood at the local grocery store some days. For some folks, getting dressed for an outing and walking into a store are big accomplishments. Interacting with the store clerk may be the only social interaction they have that day. A store clerk who is cordial, maybe even chatty or helpful, may bring deeper meaning into a person’s life than the clerk could even imagine.
The meaning is there. You just have to find it. You don’t have to be a world-renown leader to have an impact on the world or to have meaning in your work. This is especially important for young people to understand to take the pressure off of “achieving greatness” at the expense of health and happiness. For the rest of us, dig deep and find the meaning that is already there.