The Meaning that Work Gives to Life
“Work connected in quite profound ways to who we really are is not the enemy of life: it is the place where we naturally find ourselves wanting to go in order to derive some of our deepest satisfactions.”
Many people think that work is meaningless and look for ways to escape it. But, in their short guidebook “The Meaning of Life” the School of Life identifies important reasons why work is not the enemy of meaning but one of its richest sources. Here’s why:
An Area of Agency
In a world where we can’t control most of what happens, work gives us agency in a limited area. In it, we have the opportunity to build a very accurate and extensive understanding of a particular topic. Then, we can use this new knowledge to make real and meaningful contributions to the improvement of humankind. Making these improvements is what makes work feel meaningful.
A Transcended Body of Work
Furthermore, over time we can compound the progress in our area of agency to achieve extraordinary long-term results. However imperfectly our work on any given day might seem, we can improve on it in the time that follows. Piece by piece, day by day, we can create a body of work that has the potential to transcend our flaws and imperfections. Maybe, we can even evolve our work into something truly magnificent. Doing such work feels meaningful. In fact, the continuous improvement of our body of work can become a source of meaning in itself.
A Fit For Our Nature
Lastly, work can be meaningful because the specific work we do doesn’t matter as much as its fit with our nature. For work to be meaningful, it must combine our interests, sources of pleasure and strengths. Then, we can gain deep satisfaction from it. As long as this is the case, our work can take different forms like helping others, making strangers happy, or reducing suffering and still feels meaningful.
Work allows us to make real contributions in our area of agency, helps us create a body of work that transcends our imperfections and can take on different forms as long as it fits our nature. It’s important to remember these dimensions of meaning in work. They can prevent you from setting up faulty goals, offer orientation when you look for a job and can aid you in fleshing out plans for the future of your career.
Complement this piece with my summary and notes on the complete book, this piece on responsibility and meaning, and this one on pursuing what is meaningful.