Where does one find meaning?

When one of my bosses circulated this article on social media, the irony was not lost on me. Hmm, a boss telling me “It’s okay not to be passionate about your day job?” I read further, and these passages leapt out at me.

A job used to be a long-term arrangement whereby you provided skills and your employer provided compensation for said skills – end of story. For millennials, ‘work’ has almost taken on a spiritual obligation – it has become a place where we are meant to find meaning and redeem not only ourselves but also the world around us.

The struggle often dissipates when we apply the same reality check that Perel applies to relationships: our day jobs were never meant to be the singular, primary source of meaning in our lives. Where one finds meaning is a deeply personal and unique matrix. While a job can strengthen self-esteem or provide a sense of belonging to an industry or field, it was never meant to replace endorphins, the loyalty of close friends, intimacy, laughing until your stomach cramps, or the feeling of gazing into a starry night sky.

Perhaps we are meant to have hobbies and passions that never translate into full-time jobs (at least not straight away). We have multiple selves within us. Some are lucky enough to reconcile the playful self and the working self into one role – others have a job in order to pay the rent and their true fulfilment comes from family, friends, and passions outside of their day job.

When I think of the most fulfilled people I know, they enjoy their day jobs but they aren’t enslaved by them. They also derive a huge amount of meaning and joy from their personal relationships. They exercise regularly. They have creative outlets but they also manage to pay the rent.

When I hear members complaining about their jobs, I’ve started to question whether it’s really their job that is the problem, or whether it is a deeper feeling of invisibility and powerlessness that they struggle with in their lives outside of work (that job-switching isn’t necessarily going to fix). They seem to be longing for a metaphorical neighbourhood that doesn’t exist, for a holistic sense of feeling like they belong to their own lives.

I am not arguing that we should give up on the idea of love – if anything, I am a firm believer and fighter for love – for finding work you love – my point is that love is a journey that is made much easier when expectations are realistic.

And just like in a romantic relationship – the less pressure we put on a day job to live up to unrealistic expectations, the more we become able to enjoy it for what it is, rather than what we wish it could be.

This article drew two main thoughts from me.

Firstly, it made me think of how work-driven and work-centric Singaporeans could be. Often (especially for men), our self-worth is inextricably linked to our job, and by extension our pay-cheque. The second question anyone new asks (after your name) is “So what do you do?”, and they size you up from the answer.

It made me realise once again how shallow that is, and how I must consciously avoid doing that myself, and to bring up my children not to mentally pigeonhole people according to their earning power.

Whilst I do love my job, and find it meaningful and fulfilling, I think it is so important not to let my job define my soul. Such that my identity would be lost together with my job, should I relinquish it one day. Rather, I must remember how I realised long ago, that my meaning and purpose in life comes from my identity as a child of God. I must make my current relationship with my Lord paramount, instead of developing an unhealthy fixation on my current estimated potential at work.

Secondly, I thought it was interesting that the author drew a parallel between this and what we tend to expect from relationships. Apart from indicating that the author was female (and I mean this in a good way), it did remind me (slightly contrary to the point she was making) that a solid marriage is not characterised by a Korean-drama style of romance.

So apart from making one reflect if one was seeking too much from a mere job, it also reminded me not to have airy-fairy notions of love, and redefine what constitutes a loving, lasting relationship – daily actions of commitment, patience, respect and forgiveness.

What are some of your thoughts upon reading this article?

Harvey Dam at Dusk, Perth 2013

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  5 comments for “Where does one find meaning?

  1. imp
    September 25, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Hmmm. I’ve always been brought up in that boho style, given the freedom to chase my dreams, so I’ve always made an effort to mesh my day job/s with my passions. If they don’t match, I force them to. In that equation, I place remuneration on the lowest priority in job selection, and job satisfaction and sense of accomplishment foremost. I read with interest the parallel drawn to relationships simply because I dunno how to comment or think about it. It’s too subjective methinks.

    • September 26, 2013 at 5:45 am

      Yup, reminded me of the Pam Lim issue… it’s ideal when jobs can match (or be forced to, hee) passions. Many have to put remuneration somewhere higher cos of obligations or their circumstances, but I agree that too many sacrifice too much, simply for remuneration.

  2. imp
    September 25, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    A good read overall though.

  3. September 25, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    The passages you highlighted are almost the exact ones that jumped out at me. On the topic of work, I used to believe that I *should* aim to find work that I am passionate about. I really relate now to the point about having “multiple selves” and am working towards building a “portfolio career” (used to do this subconsciously, but someone recently made it conscious for me) of pockets of work of different nature, to meet my multiple needs. Your point about love relates very much to my recent thoughts (and blog post) about love and commitment!

    • September 26, 2013 at 5:51 am

      First time I’ve heard of a portfolio career! Interesting term – always saw work as one of the already many roles we have, but now multiple pockets of work…! 🙂

      Looking forward to your blog post on love!

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