As far back as I can remember, I have known that I wanted to do meaningful work, which for me has always involved both writing and making the world a better place.
My desires were often downplayed by well-meaning people who encouraged me to abandon my hopes of a meaningful career in favor of something more practical (can’t you at least minor in business?), as though the idea of work that was both personally fulfilling and made a difference in the world was a pipe dream, or worse, a luxury reserved only for the tremendously wealthy or the tremendously lucky.
This is a very impoverished way of thinking about work. Of course we can’t all have careers as poets, painters, and travel writers, but it’s a shame that in a time when we are so collectively hungry for work that feeds our souls (nearly three out of four American workers are disengaged from their jobs, a trend that is also present worldwide), we continue to dismiss the notion that meaningful work should be possible and desirable for most people.
Perhaps this is because we don’t fully understand what it means to do meaningful work. For those of us whose primary source of income is seemingly unrelated to the pursuits we’re most passionate about, how can work possibly be meaningful and enjoyable, much less make a difference in the lives of other people? This is an idea I’d like to explore in much more detail in another post. (Spoiler alert: I think the idea of “following your passion” usually does more harm than good.)
In the meantime, Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs, has some wonderful insights into what makes work meaningful. Watch his TED talk and if the mood strikes you, I’d love to hear your ideas on meaningful work in the comments.