How to Stop Working for a Living and Bring Meaning to Your Work

How to Stop Working for a Living and Bring Meaning to Your Work

meaningful work pathThe Quest for Meaningful Work

Do you ever wake up in the morning and ask yourself: “Am I in the right job?… in the right company?… on the right career path?” or even “Am I doing what I am supposed to with my life?” If so, you are not alone.

I have lost count of the number of times I have asked others what they like to do for fun, and they tell me that they mostly just work all the time.

We spend a large part of our time working. We work more than we sleep and many of us only get a few hours where we are free to do whatever we want. Our paths may not lead to where we want to go or we might lose our sense of meaning along the way.

How did it get like this? What can we do about it?

Work hard at your job and you can make a living. Work hard on yourself and you can make a fortune.Jim Rohn

Meaningful work taps into our deepest levels of being. It comes from helping others and fixing problems. It brings us pleasure, engagement, and ultimately.. fulfillment in knowing the impact that our work has on others.

The Deferred Life Plan

ball and chain workModern society tries to indoctrinate us to live a scripted life. You are expected to go to school, get a degree, and secure a job. You’re expected to climb the corporate ladder until you retire. One of the biggest incentives for dedicating your life to a company is getting a pension at the end of the rainbow, and those don’t really exist anymore.

We are expected to do what we are told to do, at the cost of doing the things that matter to us… the things that inspire us.

This is a broad generalization, but many of us experience this. Luckily, there are some people who are fortunate enough to find fulfillment from the work they do.

Bad Advice

In the past, I have heard some pretty bad career advice. People have told me that “it doesn’t matter how much you like your work… you just want to focus on building up your resume.” While it is necessary to do whatever it takes to make ends meet, it is easy for the daily grind to wear down our motivation to exceed our needs. We can’t let it erode our desire for meaningful growth and contribution to greater causes.

Taking jobs to build a resume is the same as saving up sex for old ageWarren Buffet

The New Plan

In the TED talk Quit Your Job and Find Your Work (18:45), John Scherer brought up a very interesting point about how we tend to defer happiness and meaning to the end of our lives.

Our default life plan is to DO, HAVE, then BE:

We work really hard now, and do whatever we have to. Then we will have what we need or want to have: money, status, shiny new toys, etc. As soon as we have enough, only then do we get to be happy, relaxed, and at peace. This plan doesn’t work because we will never have ‘enough.’

Scherer suggests a better approach: BE, DO, then HAVE:

Be who you want to be now. Be happy, relaxed, and at peace. Then what do can be a full expression of who you are at the core of your being. You can contribute to the other people around you. You can be in full alignment with what you want from life, and what the world needs from you. You will be able to have what you want as a byproduct of contributing to others from a strong foundation of passion and purpose.

In the end… We only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.
Lewis Carroll

Stop Working for a Living: Where Did the Meaning Go?

hard work vs meaningful workBefore the Industrial Era, the results of your work was directly connected to the impact on the immediate community. You would be able to serve someone and see how your work helped that person. With industrialism and capitalism, there was a massive push for productivity, efficiency, and scale.

Management theorists implemented scientific methods to optimize production from jobs. Their core principles were that there is one best way to do a job, and that you can train workers to do those rote tasks. They would hire supervisors to make sure you do the tasks ‘the right way.’ They also implemented a division of labor between managers and workers.

This turned many jobs that provided meaningful work into meaningless labor

Production was closely linked to the use of a product.

Before industrialization, you would be able to see and feel the impact of your work directly on your clients and customers. You would do the work, and know how well you serve others in your community.

After the separation of the production and use of products, there isn’t a clear sense of impact. Globalization amplifies this effect. Now the emphasis in production is largely on volume, quality control, and meeting quotas.

Work life was connected to your personal life

Meaningful Work life balancePrior to industrialization, you were likely to work in the same area where you live. Other people in your community would know you in multiple contexts. (Think along the lines of the town baker, butcher, farmer, etc.)

Now there is typically a clear separation between work and personal life. This has an impact on the communities that you feel that you belong to. This effect is amplified with the increasing trend of commuting to work in other cities and even global travel.

Planning and Doing Work

Managers used to be active in both planning and doing the work, along with the workers.

With a push towards more industrialized efficiency, now there is a tendency to have managers work separately from the ‘managed.’ One group plans and the rest makes it happen.

This internal separation requires much more conscious effort to see how an individual’s work impacts the world on a greater scale.

Now What?

Industrialization and Capitalism were able to improve the standard of living for the general population. However, these changes also drove the connection between our labor and meaning to become increasingly separated.

There are several things we can do to reunite meaning with our labor. As we continue to develop ourselves, we can find ways to create meaning within our current jobs or find jobs that provide more meaningful opportunities.

Either way, meaning begins with us.

Working on Yourself

Meaningful Work on selfOne of the oldest philosophical maxims is to know yourself. Understanding yourself on the deepest levels is one of the most important things you can do.

This self-awareness lays the groundwork for how you live and provides clarity that is custom tailored to your own needs and desires.

He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.
Lao Tzu

When it come to meaningful work, you want to understand yourself in 4 important areas: Your Strengths, Values, Experience, and Passion.


Meaningful Work StrengthsEveryone has a unique combination of talents, knowledge, and skills that they use in their daily lives. Strengths help you to do your work, achieve goals, and interact with others to the best of your abilities.

When you understand, grow, and apply your strengths, you can transform your work and personal life. Working to your strengths keeps you engaged and will likely improve your quality of life.

What do you enjoy doing, even without pay or recognition from others?

It is better to spend our time building on our strengths and successes to use them to our advantage, rather than trying to build up our weaknesses.

If you want to learn more about developing and applying your strengths, check out The Strengths Finder!


meaningful work values helping othersOur values are the principles and ideas that are important to you in your life. They are the beliefs that you support and are willing to stand up for. What we believe determines what we care about and what we want from life.

They provide a system that we can use for making decisions. They also determine who we are, especially when it comes to our family and friends.

Our values especially determine how we view achievement and success.

If you want more ideas for the core values you stand for, behavioral psychologist James Clear made this wonderful list of core values.


There are very few substitutes for the experience we get from doing. We can learn vicariously from the experiences of others, but experience becomes real when we develop our own skill through practice.

It helps to reflect on our past experiences now and then. When we think about how we feel during events, we can better understand what kind of experiences we want more of… the experiences that provide us with the most meaning. We can create similar meaningful experiences with others while we work.


Passion is typically something we need to actively identify and cultivate. Our passion is the unique fuel that gives our engines that extra boost of energy towards purpose and fills us with meaning.

Following our passions that also provide value to others gives us a sense of meaningful impact.

Finding Meaning in Your Work

Meaningful WorkWe can’t find our passion if we don’t know what we’re looking for. We have to intentionally work on ourselves and make those discoveries.

People who do passionate work are driven by the impact they have on their audience. They understand their strengths and the value they bring to others. They wake up inspired to do their best work each day.

Even though modern culture separates work and life, we should reconnect them. When you overlap purpose with career and personal development, you are empowered to be your best. You can feed your passion for life-long learning and fully express yourself in a way that is authentic to who you are.

Passionate work puts us in a place where we can contribute to creating a better world. Fulfillment comes from investing your time and energy towards helping others.

What you learn and experience from the journey between hitting milestones is as valuable as the accomplishment you find at the end.

Learn how to be happy with what you have while you pursue all that you want.
Jim Rohn

Meaningful work should give us the room to grow and push our limits.

Bringing Meaning to Your Work

bringing meaningful workOur work isn’t inherently meaningful or not. We bring meaning to our work and we have the ability to make our work meaningful.

It starts with what we can control. We have control over how we do our work and our environment. We can also control how we learn about ourselves and push our limits.

We can make incremental pushes in what we think is possible. It helps to surround yourself with other passionate people who inspire new possibilities.

We can look beyond the bottom line, and focus on the good that we do for others. We know how much value we can bring to others.If you are a leader, create the space for others to make their work meaningful.

If you are a leader, you want to create an environment that enables others to make their work meaningful as well.

Passion + Value = Work You Love

You can have high-value work that you don’t really find stimulating or meaningful. You can also be passionate about skills that others don’t find very valuable.

This makes it much harder to find passion in your work or make a living from your passion. In looking for work you love you want work that is both valuable to others and meaningful towards your own passions.

The underlying drive behind passionate and valuable work should be to have the most impact in helping others. The value comes from the skills you develop that are able to solve their problems.

You Are Paid In Direct Proportion To The Difficulty of Problems You Solve.
Elon Musk

At the end of the day, the meaning we get from our work comes from the meaning we bring to our work. The more passion we have about what we do, the more fulfilling our work will be. We need to work with others who encourage our passions and give us the room to push our limits.

The Story of the 4 Minute Mile

Every human achievement in history was impossible before someone did it. In the 1940’s, the record for the fastest mile was 4:01. It stayed there for nine years. Experts declared that the human body was simply not capable of a 4-minute mile. They said that human body had reached its limit, and trying to break the record was not only dangerous but also impossible.

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile record, running the distance in 3:59.4. Soon after the world saw that it was possible, there were several people who broke that record.

Discover the work you must do to fuel your passion, and live it!

It’s our responsibility to show the world that what seems impossible can become the new normal. Doing the things that inspire us inspires others to do the same.

Remember that meaning isn’t found in the job… meaning is found in the way you do the job.

Make sure that you inject meaning into everything you do.

You aren’t doing it just for you… you’re doing it for everyone around you.


Meaningful Work saves worldWe discussed how we often defer authentic happiness in order to make ends meet and get ahead. We don’t need to wait till later in our lives to passionately serve others. We can avoid the common life plan of deferring the opportunity to live our purpose in the present… we can find ways to be who we want now.

We learned that industrialization brought benefits to the general population, but also largely separated meaning from labor. We have the opportunity to find our own way to unite them again. We are able to develop ourselves to become more valuable to others.

At the end of the day, Work isn’t inherently meaningful or not. The meaning we get from our work comes from the meaning we bring to our work. If our work environment is detrimental to growing our strengths, value, and experiences, we should find work that helps facilitate our growth. We need to work with others in ways that encourage our passions and give us the room to push our limits. In nearly any role, you can inject meaning into the work that you do every day by how you serve others.

Complimentary Videos on Fulling & Meaningful Work

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