“My job feels pointless”: What makes work meaningful?

What makes work meaningful? It’s something that we will spend a big chunk of our lives doing, so to have meaning in our lives, it seems like there has to be some kind of meaning in our work.
Well, one definition of work that I like is that work is about creating value, creating something of value, increasing something of value, giving somebody something that is somehow valuable.
And it can be in all the different ways that it’s possible, but anything that you can imagine that has value to somebody is work, and all work somehow does create value for somebody, some kind of value, and somebody’s getting something.
But if we become completely cut off from that meaning, from that sense of the value, the purpose of our work, then the work must be painful.
It must be painful to go through work without a sense of what is the point of all of it, what is the value in it.
Now, of course, the most basic thing of going to work is getting paid, getting money.
So the money is the store of value itself, that we go to work because we are then given some money, and we can then use that money to buy things that are valuable for us.
So there’s the value of simply making money.
But because we spend so much of our lives, so much of our waking time, and our energy, and our efforts, and really so much of the centre of our lives goes into our work, if the only value that the work provides is the money that we get out of it, it’s just such an empty hollow shell to spend time doing something that feels pointless, that feels like it has no value, simply so that we can get a payment to spend during the shorter times that we’re not working.
So it seems like to be satisfied with our work and to feel even the joy of work – maybe joy’s too strong a word, but at least the acceptance and some level of satisfaction with our work, the non-hating of our work – we have to somehow feel like it is valuable, and understand the value and purpose of it.
So every work has this, and one way or another, we are contributing value.
But if it’s something that it’s just not impressive to us, just like meh, yeah, in some ways, you know, somebody might consider it valuable, but I don’t really care about it at all, then that would not be satisfying.
Or even if you can’t find the value.
If you can’t find where that something valuable and meaningful is being created through your work, if you don’t feel that, then it seems like that work cannot be satisfying.
I mean, think of the most simple job, like if you’re making food, and you sell somebody food.
It’s one of the most basic, valuable things that anybody can do.
Everybody needs food every day, and if you are helping to provide them with that food, you are delivering very serious value to all your customers.
Either if you’re growing the food, if you’re helping to make it into finished products, and helping to cook and serve it: all those things are contributing very significant value to people.
Now, if you really love food and you really love that whole world of creating and serving food, and you really feel the significance of the value of food, then that can be a very satisfying work.
And if you don’t really care about food much at all, you just want to eat what you need to and be done with it: then, well, you’re still creating that value if you work in that profession, but it may not be satisfying, because you’re not intensely feeling that value.
Just like, well, I can acknowledge that yes, people need to eat, and yes, people enjoy food that is of high quality and tastes good, and so yeah, it’s useful to deliver that, I’m being useful.
But if you don’t care about it, then it’s hard to get fired up with a sense of the meaning and purpose of doing work, and trading life, of trading so many hours of your life for that work.
Think of any job you can put in this perspective of thinking what value it creates for somebody.
A plumber: another very useful service.
By creating working plumbing, and correcting the problem of plumbing not working, and helping to create the situation of plumbing working, creates a very valuable situation of people can live in homes and work in buildings that have working plumbing.
Which is something we normally don’t think about until it’s not there.
If it’s working, though, having working plumbing, it’s just something we assume that makes our lives so much more comfortable and improves our health so much that we don’t even notice it except when it isn’t there.
So the plumber is really adding value in a very clear way.
Now someone working like an artist: that’s where it becomes a lot more vague, because it’s much more difficult to define value.
You could be making some kind of art, and, you know, maybe almost everybody who looks at it or listens to it or whatever, they would say, well, “What are you doing? That seems entirely pointless. […]

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