I have been grappling with the idea of “meaningful work.” I have two questions I am thinking about:
- Should work even be meaningful or does pursuit of this crowd out meaning in other aspects of our life?
- Does this undermine the millions of people that may have no chance of “meaningful work”?
I don’t have good answers to the two questions but have stumbled across research from Adrian Madden and Catherine Bailey from the University of Sussex (which I’ve called out before) that helped to make sense of what meaning is. They found it was described by five characteristics: It is self-transcendence, poignant, episodic, reflective and personal.
In simple terms, meaning relates to your personal values, has an impact on others, is powerful, may happen sporadically and is realized when you reflect on it and name it.
I received a text from a friend who mentioned he just took a job at a new company where I had introduced him to a connection over two years ago. I had no idea he was looking. That initial connection turned into an ongoing relation and helped him make a move he was excited about. That text made my day.
Our moments of meaning are not constant bliss and happiness, but the episodic moments that we can’t predict. It can be as simple as an unexpected text from a friend.