What if we have it all wrong?
This notion that our work gives us our meaning. That is, the work that takes up our time, energy, and attention from 9 to 5, or whatever schedule that equates to an 8-hour work day.
Generation Y-ers are inundated with messages that promise us we’ll find work that best utilizes our skills, allows our talents to thrive, or help us find that amorphous purpose-giving activity we’ve been waiting for.
We are a hopeful generation, yes. The options before of us appear endless. The myriad of career paths beckon us to dive in and sample jobs like we’re figuring out what flavor of yogurt to order.
And yet, this self-serving buffet of employment options spoils us.
Because we’ve come to expect reward in return. We expect to gain meaning. We are determined to make something of ourselves because for us, we’ve grown to believe that success, through work, is not an option, but the only option.
Or is it?
Without needlessly deconstructing the ways in which we’ve been socialized for years by our parents, our friends, our schools, the ads on TV, the ads everywhere, the books we read, the blogs we follow, or the tweets that remind us to “YOLO“…
In this country anyway, we’re told time and again that if we work hard enough, our wildest dreams are there for the taking. That we’re all afforded the chance to go to school for free, then if we’re good enough, we can finish school and be in debt, and if we’re good enough still, we can get a job and pay off that debt, and move up enough to finally start saving (for “something”), and then before we know it, we start questioning what it’s all really for…
At which point, we decide that our work, then, has to mean something. Right? Why else would bother toiling so hard for?
Why else would we spend our mornings trying to beat traffic just so we can get to our desk at a reasonable hour and do _______ for many hours, and do _______ as well as we can, as much as we can, so we can leave at a reasonable hour and beat traffic and get home and call it a day?
But what if, this: what if work was exactly just what it was – day in and day out, the coffee to stay awake, the Facebooking to stay sane, the e-mails to feel busy, the to-do list to check off slowly, the bad commute both ways, the getting-home-late for dinner, the catching-the-kids asleep…
What if it couldn’t break from that routine? What if, for some of us, the choices aren’t as endless as they first seem? Or that there are too many bills to way, mouths to feed, checks to cash, e-mails to send, people to please, people to help – that we can’t afford to do anything other than work with what we have. And so, work, remains, work.
Are we then resigned to a life of meaninglessness? Because our work is what it is?
Since when did our work become, ALL, that there is?
When were we told that the meaning we could discover, could only be realized between the hours of 9am until 5pm?
What about the other hours of the day. The hours we spend waking, breathing, sitting, listening, eating, playing, loving, serving, laughing, building, and dreaming, when we’re not at our cubicle, not at our desk, not in the car, and not on the train?
What about the meaning in those moments?
(What about all these questions??)
Sure, there’s something to live for. There better be. But perhaps that thing worth living for, isn’t “work”.
Perhaps we won’t find it there, but in the deepest recesses of our soul, in the stillness we find in solitude, in the fellowship brought by our loved ones. Perhaps for some of us, that thing worth living for, the thing which helps makes sense of it all, isn’t where we’ve found ourselves constantly looking.
That is, on our computer screens, on our tablets, on our planners, or on our spreadsheets. It may not be on the feeds we’re subscribed to, on the e-mail newsletters we’ve signed up for, or in the pages of the latest self-help book on productivity.
It may be, that the work isn’t the end, but a means toward something more. It may be that the work means nothing at all. It may be that the conversation should shift beyond just work.
And when it does, we might find that there’s an abundance of purpose and meaning to be had, because there’s much need in this world, and much from us that is required, and so much, then, to be given, and what we needed to do was take that small risk of looking elsewhere, and listening.