Meaningful Work

These days, there is a lot of talk about "meaningful work." Finding the right or perfect vocation has become a consuming pursuit for many. Career coaches and counselors are ready to charge you lots of money to help you discover the triple treasure of high salary, sense of higher purpose, and the best fit for your skills and personality.

I heard an interview with Mike Rose recently, who writes about intelligence, work, and the American dichotomy between "manual labor" and academia. He has a hard time with the concept of "meaningful work."  Yes, it's important to find meaning and purpose in our work. But isn't a job that puts food on the table meaningful? No matter what your job description is, isn't providing for a family or paying the bills a noble pursuit?

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing hospital staff.  My favorite interview was with a woman from the housekeeping staff who's been doing her job for 15 years.  She sat across the table from me and said, "I love my job.  I love the patients and watching the nurses do their work.  My opinions count here, and I take so much pride in my work." 

She's a housekeeper for a surgery unit. She empties bedpans, changes sheets, scrubs blood off the floor, and all sorts of other unsavory jobs. At the moment, she's not aspiring to be a nurse or physician's assistant or anesthesiologist. She's aspiring to be the besthousekeeper she can be.

In my job, I get an insider's view into lots of professions--utility workers, nurses and doctors, social workers, 9-1-1 dispatchers, managers of all sorts and stripes, fundraisers, architects, consultants, clerks, customer service specialists.  What sets the best apart is their definition of meaningful work, and it goes something like this:

  • I come to work every day and do the best job I can.
  • I'm committed to my work and proud of it even when I don't get recognition from others.
  • I find the human element in every situation and do my best to connect with it.
  • I make mistakes and acknowledge them and have grace for other people's mistakes.
  • I'm the one who is ultimately responsible for finding meaning in my work.

Work is such an elemental part of being human.  I hope you are finding meaning in your work, whatever you're doing.