| | | |

The Truth of the Work

Work is a funny thing, for it represents so much of our identity, yet, if we live well, it’s only a small part of who we are. For if this life is about the accumulation of experiences, relationships, knowledge and self-understanding, work adds to each of these things but isn’t all of any of them. We want to believe that our work has purpose, and so chafe at the jobs that seem trivial, menial, unfulfilling and generally dead ends in a climb up the career ladder. But this outlook misses so much of what makes work meaningful.

When I look at the accumulation of contributions I’ve made in my work, it’s easy to see where I made a difference and where my contribution felt insignificant to the overall progress of the companies I worked for at the time. Ultimately, what mattered was showing up and being present for the work at hand. The value derived isn’t always up to us to determine, only that we do our part.

“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” ― Thomas Merton

We derive the most fulfillment from engagement with others, not from the accumulation of more wealth than the next corporate climber. Don’t get me wrong, financial security solves problems that linger in poverty, but at some point the pursuit of wealth and status is nothing but a distraction from the pursuit of meaning. Perhaps this is why those stories of people leaving the corporate ladder to run the country store or work in a non-profit are so fascinating. Deep down most of us just want to contribute and be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

“Consider what a company is. A company is a culture. A group of people brought together around a common set of values and beliefs. It’s not products or services that bind a company together. It’s not size and might that make a company strong, it’s the culture—the strong sense of beliefs and values that everyone, from the CEP to the receptionist, all share.” — Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

As Walt Whitman reminded us, the powerful play goes on, and we may contribute a verse. All the meetings and the key performance indicators lumped together are nothing but a means to an end. We’re here to contribute to something larger than ourselves in our time, and showing up for work is a demonstrated commitment to that mission. What we realize in the end is that the work we choose to do is an expression of who we want to become.

Similar Posts

One Comment

Leave a Reply