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Dr. Jim Bailey
Guiding You to Work that FIts
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Work-Life Blog

About Your Work-Life

SUCCESSFUL AND MISERABLE - Purpose and Meaning in Your Work

Last week author Charles Duhigg published an article in New York Times Magazine discussing how discontented many of his fellow alumni were in their jobs. Despite being graduates of Harvard Business School, arguably THE most prestigious university business program in the US, and possibly the world, his colleagues were less than overjoyed by their career choices. Duhigg put a sharp point on the matter by noting that “most were miserable” from chasing the illusion that big money and prestige would make their lives complete.

He went further by sharing a conversation with a friend who noted, “I feel like I’m wasting my life. When I die, is anyone going to care that I earned an extra percentage point of return? My work feels totally meaningless.” He recognized the incredible privilege of his pay and status, but his anguish seemed genuine. “If you spend 12 hours a day doing work you hate, at some point it doesn’t matter what your paycheck says,” he told me. There’s no magic salary at which a bad job becomes good. He had received an offer at a start-up, and he would have loved to take it, but it paid half as much, and he felt locked into a lifestyle that made this pay cut impossible. “My wife laughed when I told her about it,” he said.

“When I die, is anyone going to care that I earned an extra percentage point of return? My work feels totally meaningless.”

In the off-chance that you or I dismiss this poor fellow’s feelings as the “moaning of a 1 Percenter”, Duhigg points to research that shows only 43 percent of American workers were satisfied in their jobs in 2010. That was down 20 percent from job satisfaction figures in the mid-1980s. The trend is also occurring despite decades of efforts by businesses to make their workplaces more worker friendly. So, why are people so much less satisfied with their jobs and career choices?

Duhigg posits, “The smoothest life paths sometimes fail to teach us about what really brings us satisfaction day to day.”

Rather, he proposes that “Even for Americans who live frighteningly close to the bone… a job is usually more than just a means to a paycheck. It’s a source of purpose and meaning, a place in the world.

If you scroll backward through the blog entries on my website you might suspect that I paid Duhigg to write these things, but in the words of someone famous, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know the man”. It seems that the things my clients have been telling me for more than a dozen years, and that I’ve tried to convey to them and others are as universal as we’ve believed. The Purpose and Meaning you find in your work is at least as important, and probably more, than the amount of money you make in your work. In fact, if the stories within Duhigg’s article indicate anything, it’s that purpose and meaning are probably the most important things you should be seeking through your work.

If these ideas intrigue you then I invite you to read Charles Duhigg’s article, then go to my CONTACT page and set up a conversation with me. I love talking to people about finding purpose and meaning in their lives and our first conversation is always free.

Two great books that also discuss this topic in more depth are Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, and Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller.

James Bailey