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The Problem with Meaningful Work


Bassam Tarazi asks hard questions on meaning. When we seek meaningful work, is it for us to derive meaning, or for the end user? Which is for self actualization and which is for impactful manifestation for those in need? And when you boil it down, how do you delineate the two? Sometimes, doing good takes a bit more than feeling good about it.

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  • Azar Aftimos

    Excellent points. Thank you so much for bringing important points to the surface. Thanks for sharing and posting.

  • Lindsay Fahey

    Overall your piece hit the mark. One important distinction in doing meaningful work is using your skills, expertise and natural talents in service to something larger than yourself. This means your ego, status and self-serving interests take a back seat to the greater purpose driving your actions.

    • Phillip

      Agreed. It is ultimately about culture and requires a cultural shift. If we're taught our skills, expertise and natural talents are meant to be developed in service of something larger than ourselves, we may be less inclined to find any contention with meaning. I find, for myself personally, the narrative I'm taught is one for personal manifest. And I believe as we are given the opportunity, self development is important too. Both are equally important. But, as you stated, at times, mitigating your ego is required to driving towards social action.

  • Brooke Feldman

    This is my favorite quote from this piece: "Meaningful work is first about a mindset and how you approach your day and your surroundings. It’s about taking pride in your work. It’s about being respected and being useful to the people around you (your co-workers and end user)."

    It's funny, I was struggling with this question last night. I want to do SOMETHING meaningful, but I already might be in small ways. This article really helped my thoughts.

    • Phillip

      Exactly Brooke! I struggle with this question all the time. Tarazi addresses it in a pragmatic way without comprising Maslow-like need for self-actualization as well.

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    I like this point a lot: "Finding meaningful work is about feeling a difference.
    Doing meaningful work is about making a difference. The first part is about our emotions, the second part is about our skills. We need to balance both of these in our work and the role we play in the world."

    I do think if you work for a company, your values must align with that company if you're looking to do meaningful work within it. However, you also have to want to use the skills you're being asked to use in order to make the work impactful. What do you think?

    • bassam.tarazi

      Hey everyone! Bassam here. I just wanted to say thanks for the repost and the for the engaging conversation that you all are partaking in. I'm glad I was able to strike a chord and help spark the discussion. Rock on!

      • Alessandra Rizzotti

        Thanks for getting on to tell us! Please post any articles you have to share moving forward on :) Great work!

    • Phillip

      I agree with your sentiments Alessandra. Ultimately, like most things, it is about balance. I find that I would rather have someone find emotional satisfaction while concerned with making some positive impact rather than one doing work solely for personal emotional satisfaction despite the consequences beyond the individual.

      In addition, while difficult, (oh-so-difficult), I believe in Viktor Frankl's idea of being able to find meaning in what we do even if it is "stuffing envelopes." This is difficult in a manifest-destiny culture and I by no means have the skill through which Frankl espouses. But I do work at it. As Camus stated, "We must imagine Sisyphus happy."

      Overall, people use emotions to navigate the world. If we can tune this emotional navigation with doing rather than simply feeling, we will have more people willing to leave the world a better place.

      • Mark Hill

        I am not sure Camus is correct and I believe our definition/obsession with being "happy" or valuing "happy" as such an important ingredient in the equation in the past 50 years may be the problem. It may be one of the first obstacles to get beyond in discovering meaningful work. I also believe our worldview can present a problem. The predominant worldview espouses a feeling of entitlement to a great many things. We also imagine a world that is supposed to be pleasant and good, comfortable, luxurious as opposed to a prison like world. In an effort to imagine a "better" world we suffer the negative aspects of the optimist. If we instead imagine a very "stern" world as C.S. Lewis describes, one where we live in a prison as opposed to a hotel, we see this prison is not so bad for a prison. If we imagine it a luxury hotel we end up very disappointed indeed. In the end I guess I believe self-actualization is a pretty selfish goal but if it is a byproduct of value based work that serves others, I am all for it.

        • Mark Hill

          but really I am suspicious that we are going about the wrong way. We are trying to find meaning in our individual spheres when the problem may lie at the root. We live in a system that has been built over the centuries on greed and other vices so how can we expect to extract something meaningful out of a soup of vice? we need to start reevaluating values and build from the foundation up.