Meaningful Work

When I started as a perma here a few months ago I told a friend about it, and his first response was, “I bet that pays you well.”  This is someone I like and respect a lot, and at the time I took it as light-hearted sarcasm and laughed along with him.  But later I thought, was that disrespectful?  Should I have felt insulted?  I am not upset with this person, but in retrospect his quip has made me think about work.  Both my intuition and Malcolm Gladwell have told me that happiness is connected to having meaningful work.  From his book Outliers:

“Three things: autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between 9 and 5. It is whether our work fulfills us. … Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful.”

For me blogging does all three: it’s autonomous (I can write whenever I find time, about pretty much anything that interests me), there is complexity inherent to thinking and writing, and an effort to write something meaningful often comes with a reward of having a discussion in the comments.  So yes, blogging pays me well.  Other meaningful work I have is my mothering and service to others.  Right now my paid employment is not very meaningful – I feel I’ve learned all I can in my current position and would like to find a new one with new challenges.  So it turns out my work where the reward is money is my least meaningful work.

How does the meaningfulness of your work correlate with money?  What is your most meaningful work?

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7 Responses

  1. April says:

    I marked that both my paid and unpaid work are meaningful, although in reality, both have meaningful and not-so meaningful components. I am fortunate to have a job I like in a field that I believe is important and usually enjoyable, but like any job, there is always some amount of annoying paperwork or office politics to deal with. I feel like motherhood is meaningful in the big picture, but the day-to-day details of it are not usually terribly fulfilling: blowing noses, cleaning, finding lost shoes, laundering, washing dishes, cleaning again, etc.

  2. Caroline says:

    Yes, April, well said. I know parenthood is deeply meaningful, but in the day to day grind I don’t always feel it.

  3. DefyGravity says:

    Currently my paid work isn’t all that meaningful, aside from the fact that it allows me to support my family. But it’s fairly generic and doesn’t make me feel like I’m improving anything. That’s why I get involved in the volunteer work I do, so I can feel like I’m doing something productive with my life.

    I hope that my feelings about paid work change once I get back into teaching; the field I was trained for and ultimately want to end up it.

  4. Diane says:

    I find the comments about motherhood completely understanding, yet, frustrating at the same time. Here’s why, I worked as a nanny for about 10 years. I was college educated and professionally certified and (do not think about calling me Mary Poppins).

    My work day often started at 7 or 8 am till 7pm and if it was a Friday night 11pm. Its ridiculous for parents to tell a sitter that you get breaks from the kids when the kids are asleep. That’s crap, even when they are asleep, I’m responsible for their welfare. I never got any sick days. I barely had a livable wage(good thing I was a live in) And I never had any privacy.

    And by the same token these people always had tickets for Redskin games or whatever event they wanted to go to.

    I totally get that you feel frustrated, but, the people you hire to help you feel just as frustrated especially when asked at the end of the day?” What did you do” like I have a finished work product to hand over. No, I didn’t have a finished work product, but, your child is alive and well happy and content. Isn’t that enough/

    To make matters worse Moms at church barely recognized the nannies in the ward, unless they wanted free baby sitting for a night out.

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved the kids that I was taking care of, I loved seeing the changes and the accomplishments and knew that I had a hand in that, but, I often felt used and discarded like dirty Kleenex by the parents and by people in the Ward, who when they herd that I was nanny often just looked past me like I wasn’t doing anything important.

  5. TopHat says:

    My volunteer work is meaningful. And being a mom is meaningful. The stuff I do on the side is meaningful to me, but probably not to anyone else. But I enjoy them, so I do them. Nothing I do is paid particularly well. Working on that one.

  6. EmilyCC says:

    I’ve never made much money. Sometimes that stings a bit (while I also try to humble myself that I’ve had the luxury of having the privilege to choose both paid and unpaid meaningful work).

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