Does Your Work Have Meaning?

When your work feels like an exercise in futility you may try to make up for your dissatisfaction on the weekend with volunteering, hobbies, travel, love affairs, drink, food or other escapes. By noon on Monday you are deflated, counting the days until next Friday. You wonder if that’s all there is to your life. When you consider the health problems that plague so many people, it’s not too great a stretch to conclude that many feel trapped in work they hate.

If you are not enjoying your work it could be that you don’t know what kind of job or business is best for you. Perhaps your creativity is stifled. Or you clash with supervisors, or you are disenchanted with corporate politics and structure. You feel a general boredom; you need a new challenge but cannot, for one reason or another, focus on which steps to take to solve the career problem.

Like many people, you may think that money is the solution: “if only I had __dollars I would do what I want to do.” This is a common fallacy often demonstrated in the lives of those who win the lottery. Because money comes too quickly and without effort, lottery winners lack the skills to handle the changes wealth makes in their lives. Many of these people wind up losing the money they won. Too late they discover that contentment is the result of loving what you are doing, not of how much money you have in the bank.

A Sense of Urgency

The creative self thrives on a sense of urgency, rather than ease and comfort. This is why my most challenging clients are those who have large trust funds or inheritances. Because they feel no pressure to create they procrastinate, scatter their energies, or worry about losing the money they have. As a result, the creative self sleeps, like a warrior under a tree who has no battle to fight. Conversely, my best clients are those who describe themselves as desperate. They tell me they will do anything that helps them to find satisfying work.

A Sense of Accomplishment

The Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky learned firsthand the importance of being satisfied with the outcome of your work. When he was put in prison for holding views that ran counter to those of the authorities, Dostoyevsky was moved by the misery of prisoners who were assigned to carry a huge pile of sand from one side of the camp to the other. Each day, every week, for months on end, they carried the same sand in wheelbarrows back and forth across the camp. Some of the prisoners were in such despair they threw themselves on the electrified barbed wire fence and committed suicide.

By contrast, in another prison camp Dostoyevsky noticed that the prisoners sang as they went to and from work each day. These men were building a railroad, so at the end of each day they felt a sense of accomplishment. This led Dostoyevsky to conclude that people can feel content–even in a prison camp–if their work has meaning.

Breaking Free