The meaning and purpose of work

“Hi, so, what do you do?”

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Whenever we go in a meeting full of strangers or whenever we meet someone for the first time, it’s quite expected to face this question.

Then, people start asking us questions about how we do it, where we do it etc. For some people, it is fun to discuss the answer. For others it is a drag. The former set of people relish talking about their work, its challenges, its difficulties, its inputs and its outputs. The latter set of people fear being asked anything about their work because they hate to talk about it. They don’t want to talk about work.

Unfortunately, for some reason, the world is comprised more of the latter set of people who don’t enjoy talking about their work. Have we ever wonder why? Why don’t we take time enjoy something that occupies the prime years of our lives, is the source of our livelihood and part of everyday conversation? Why?

I wonder. The easy answer is heredity. It’s because many of us come from families where work has been only seen as the source of livelihood but not that of pleasure and identity. Work is defined as something which we do to make money. Work is viewed as a mercenary goal. The same views trickle down from one generation to other generation and nothing changes.

There is also a more nuanced answer. That, perhaps is enmeshed in the social context. People do what society values. What does the society value? The society values luxury, materialism and things money can buy. Therefore, most people in the society pursue money as a mercenary goal and things money can buy.

One of the greatest example of materialistic luxury in the contemporary world is the brand Apple. People buy Apple I-phones, Macs, I-pads because they are perceived as luxury in the realm of technology.

It is quite an irony that many Apple consumers view the brand as a source of ostentation but not as a source of idealism. Steve Jobs was an idealistic man. On June 12, 2005, at the Stanford Commencement Address, he said…

”You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.”

He was a utopian and he built a utopian brand which does not compromise on quality or design. Apple is the epitome of world class technology, a brand built by a man who took pleasure in his work. I don’t buy Apple products because I find them ridiculously expensive and I am a freelance writer-comedian. I am doing fine with Windows and can live without the glamour of Apple products for now. I may want to use them in future when I have surplus money to spend on luxurious technology.

There are several other examples of men and women who did work in which they found purpose and meaning. Yes, the society hails the success of these men. However, it doesn’t love the process. It doesn’t admire the roads these men have had to take to reach where they reached. Therefore, nobody hears of them till they arrive.

The society, however, is a collection of individuals. If individuals choose to transform their thinking, the society will transform. As individuals, we need to realise that our work will be our legacy once we are done. We may not suddenly arrive but if we do something we value, the journey is its own reward. Think about your own life as you read this.

How and why did I enter this profession?

What were my motivations?

Do I get pleasure out of this work?

Do I love to talk about it?

If I could do work that I really enjoyed, what would it be?

May be, the answers to some of these questions will help you in getting a perspective about what you do and why you do it. It is important that we make a concerted effort to understand ourselves. It is only when we understand ourselves that we will be able to do the work that we find meaningful.

Work isn’t only a source of livelihood. Our work is who we are. Our work is the source of meaning in our lives. Our work is our identity. It’s only when we view work in this context, we will probably be doing things which we truly value. When we do what we find meaningful, we give it our best.

Work is worship. I admire my gym trainer. He is a really passionate man. When he enters the gym in the morning, he does a gesture which is akin to entering a temple and I am sure he means it. He is a man on fire when he is working. Let’s talk about work sometime.

Have a great day!

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Author, Stand Up Comedian. Trying to make people happier, one post, one show a time.