Posted on Leave a comment

Why do we work if not for meaning

This is a gloss on an Annie Dillard piece when she was writing about writing. I read her classic book called The Writing Life not too long ago and this excerpt stuck with me. I thought it could easily apply to many things but especially work. If you want to find the original piece, go to pages 72-73 in her book. Here is my take in relation to work, modified quite substantially.

Why are we working if not in hope that the work will magnify our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will impress upon our minds the value of labour, so we may feel a sense of worth and that we have contributed in some way to the very foundations of humanity.

Okay I probably overegged it. Try tell something that on a Monday morning 😬

But if not that or even part that, what then and why not?

Yes I get that not everyone has choices in life that allow them the luxury to question the work that they are doing.

But surely now in an age of the great resignation, after the futility and of the pandemic, with wars raging and madmen at the helm, why now should we not consider this alternative.

If not now, when.

I’d like to think I’ve always been in it for the passion. I’ve had several jobs that were devoid of passion, mine or anyones around me (which is often a great determinant of our own passion), and soon after I quit.

Thats the way it should be.

The pendulum for following your passion swings both ways many times. I’ve read headlines saying success at work are equally due to following your passion or nothing at all to do with it.

Let us not get too caught up in what the answer is. The points are: do you get meaning out of the work you do; does it satisfy some deeper level drive that goes beyond the need for a pay check?

I would argue that passion and meaning are closely aligned and whether you are following a passion at work or are passionate because of the work you do, it will give you meaning.

And why should that meaning not led to greater fulfilment. To experiences at work that allow us to feel alive and that we are contributing to something worthwhile. Something that “resonates with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive” (as Joseph Campbell put it in the Power of Myth).

When we spend at least two thirds of our lives working, why should we not expect this and work towards it.

Whether as employees or employers, can there be a grander vision for work?

I would argue not.

Leave a Reply