Looking for work with purpose
For the past few days I’ve been editing a podcast interview I did with Prof. Andrea Veltman, who teaches philosophy at James Madison University. Her book, Meaningful Work, is a philosophical treatment of work. Thorough and thought-provoking, it was one of my favorite reads this year.
What work means to us is changing rapidly, perhaps faster than ever in history. While we still need work to make a living, more people than ever can pursue work as a calling. Instead of salary, the future of work will be measured by things like meaning, virtue, and impact.
We’re already most of the way there. For example, one study found that a staggering 9 in 10 employees surveyed would accept lower pay if they had work with more meaning. There’s also an impression that this desire for meaning is especially pronounced for younger workers, but research shows that older workers may be more cause-oriented than younger people at the start of their careers.
What’s behind this momentum? Perhaps it’s that we see better than ever what our work means to the world around us. Connectivity gives us context and reasons to contemplate our place in a human family with abundant needs. Is there any wonder that we’d want our work—where we spend the bulk of our waking hours—to do some good?
A job doesn’t sprout purpose overnight, though. If you are hunting for more meaning at work, here are three ways to start:
- Help the people you work with. Few people in the world will have the same opportunities that you have to help the people around you.
- Build things, even if it’s beyond your job description. Don’t just clock in every day. Look for transcendent work, the kind that improves things long after you’ve left.
- Master a problem. Something at work vexes people. Understand it better than anyone else so you can help fix it.
If you make meaning at work a practice instead of a mere desire, more opportunities will find you. Before long, you’ll be blazing the trail for others, too.
What can you do this week to add impact to your work?
Finding Good at Work
If you’re ready to dive into finding work with impact, I strongly recommend 80,000 Hours, a program at the Centre for Effective Altruism in Oxford, England. The idea in the name is that you have 80,000 hours of work in your life. Their goal is to help you make that time as impactful as you can.
I recommend starting with their Key Ideas. I also enjoyed their book, which you can get in digital form for free.
I’m always interested in good ideas for topics to address or organizations to highlight. If you have something to share, please send me a message.