Finding Meaning in Your Work

Looking for a purposeful life in a purpose driven world.

Forty years ago the vast majority of Americans hardly required performing meaningful work. The task itself was not the purpose, but rather the end result.

The ability to put food on the table, a roof over your head and a shirt on your back (hopefully pants too) was the primary reason behind the daily grind. Yet, somewhere along the line that thought process gradually switched to finding purpose in our work.

Now, I'm not going to stand here and tell you why, but my guess would be the advent of the unofficial social mandated post secondary education. I'm knocking going to college. I loved it and wouldn't trade my experiences for anything. There is a natural conflict that develops during those years between doing what you want to do and doing what you have to do. The commingling of which is for many off limits.

You find a path, you follow the path and you reach your destination.

The destination is a career based on your interests you developed when you were the ripe old age of 18. Removing the outliers, one could argue that the majority of people are not mature enough to decide on what they want to do for a living.

I'll use myself as a personal example.

I got into the Penn State meteorology program which is a fairly strong program on a national level. Yet, the first day, the very first fucking day, I saw the curriculum and panicked. All I saw was that there was way too much math for my tastes. So what would any immature kid do?

I bailed.

I raced to the Division of Undergraduate Studies and armed with the knowledge of not knowing what I wanted out of life, I signed up without a major. As an adult I can appreciate the fact that I was not the only poor soul to make that leap, but I did so without even trying. I was afraid of failure.

Luckily for me I became a history major and now am a professor at a major institution. I'm not. That was the plan, but here I am writing a blog post about finding meaning in what you do. No, once I found out that most of them were still paying off their student loans into their sixties (which with my grad school loans I'm on pace to replicate), I bailed.

The point of my experience as it relates to the topic is that I didn't do things for the sake of finding purpose. I made the decisions I did in order to avoid being poor or having to challenge myself.


Back to the present. The good news is that what you consider to be your work is entirely up to you. Perhaps you are a brick maker by trade and a volunteer at heart. Or maybe you're a school teacher. Or a nurse. Or a financial analyst. Whatever it is gleaning some level of personal meaning in your work is important.

I spend a big part of therapy trying to wind my way around the mental labyrinth of what it would take for me to find meaning in a profession. I've narrowed it down to these key elements:

Helping people, achieving dreams and variety.

For the sake of brevity I'll keep it vague as to what each of those mean. The lesson here is that it is up to the individual to define what is meaningful, but I encourage everyone to do the same. I'm making strides each day to define my chosen profession by the aforementioned elements. It isn't easy, but knowing that is where I want to be has helped this man-child embrace the notion of finding purpose.

Now passions. That's another story....

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