In a genuinely developed society, work is an essential dimension of social life, for it is not only a means of earning one’s daily bread, but also of personal growth, the building of healthy relationships, self-expression and the exchange of gifts. Work gives us a sense of shared responsibility for the development of the world, and ultimately, for our life as a people.Pope Francis
With the exception of a select few, everyone must work. It is the bedrock of our civilization — through working we are able to obtain and sustain the lifestyles that we wish for ourselves and our future kin. We spend so much of our life working that it inevitably becomes part of who we are and who we become. For this reason, we must look deeper into our relationship with work, past the superficial premise of the exchange of time for money, to find the meaningful work that we all need.
I remember the first ‘easy job’ I had — when I graduated university I was tight on cash and needed a job, any job, to get me through the first few months of post-graduation life while I looked for something more concrete (so much for degrees). I responded to a local job listing for potential ‘call representatives’, which later I would find out was a cold calling position for the provincial Liberal government in Canada. Being a cold caller seemed to me at the time to be the easiest job in the world: all I had to do was read from a script and wait until the person hung up, or declined to participate after my preamble was finished if they were polite enough, and repeat. The first few weeks in the job were a breeze. I worked my 5 or 8 hour shift, picked up my cheque, and went home. Easy money. However, what initially started as an ‘easy job’ became boring, repetitive, mundane….soul-sucking. The work we were doing couldn’t have been less of a challenge, and I slowly grew to despise going in to work. Fortunately for me, the campaign season was short and the gig ended after a month or so, but I learned a valuable lesson from that experience: to have a job without challenge is not only boring to do but hinders your own personal growth, even setting it back. Being challenged, whether it be mentally, physically, or spiritually, is critical to sustainable, meaningful work. Moreover, the opportunity to develop as an employee and as an individual is just as important considering how much time we spend working. There is nothing wrong with taking a job like this, as I did, to make a quick buck, but for a life-long career something more is needed. Choosing a career that challenges you in all the right ways, in both the short-term and long-term, will make your time-for-money transaction worth it.
Work is sustainable and meaningful when it has a continued impact in the way you want. You need to understand what it is, and why, you are seeking a job in a particular field or line of work. Is it the financial potential? The opportunity to do work that you love to do? Is the end product something you deeply believe in? Honestly answering these questions will challenge not only your career path but your life values as well. There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of money — it is a necessary resource for sustaining life, and having more of it generally makes life easier. However, it only makes your money problems go away. It will not heal your wounds from past relationships or other internal problems in your life. The pursuit of money in itself can actually introduce new problems and stress in your life that perhaps could have been avoided. In essence, optimizing for money beyond what is necessary is not a principle one should live his life by. You spend the majority of your life working, and as Pope Francis mentioned, work is more than just a means of earning one’s daily bread but a medium through which personal development occurs and meaning can be found. Choosing a career that suits you is critical to a life well-lived.
Use your character, innate strengths, and passions to guide your career trajectory. No matter how hard you work, you will never be able to outperform someone who is obsessed with their work and loves to do it. Some of my favourite citizens of the internet, David Perell and Jack Butcher, hosted a webinar on Finding your Personal Monopoly which covered this topic beautifully. Doubling down on your personal interests and unique quirks, your character, and the things you are good at is the best way to become the best in class in a particular niche because the amount of people with the same interests, strengths, and character as you is likely small. In a way, you are the product. People like Oprah and Gordon Ramsey are so successful because not only do they love the work they do and are great at it, but they were able to integrate their personality and being into their work in an irreplaceable way. Of course, interests and passions change and fade over time, but that is part of the natural and continual process of self-discovery that one must undertake in order to find themselves and their niche. Trying and failing is the best way to learn more about yourself, and what makes you unique will make you standout.
Finding meaningful work is more than just a career journey — it is a journey of self-discovery and self-development. There is opportunity to learn and grow in all lines of work, even in the work that might not necessarily excite you. But in the long-game, think purposefully about what you want your daily life to look like and what kind of work excites you. It will make it easier to get out of bed in the morning and the sense of direction and growth will bleed into all aspects of your life.