The Meaning of Work

Unemployment is a torment for several reasons. First and most obvious is the absence of money, which moves from an initial restraint with social activities to a genuine fear of not being able to pay bills or buy groceries once savings are used up.

Secondly, there is the social stigma, an assumption that one is being lazy or choosy, or the more irritating envy of the employed, as if one is not a job-seeker but a person of leisure, taking in all the sights and cultural activities on offer or idly drinking elaborate coffee-based beverages while catching up on ones reading.

Thirdly, there is the internal concern of a lack of value. Whether one is a member of a capitalist society or a socialist utopia, individual worth is tied into what one can contribute. A career suggests not just being of use, but a purpose, a developing skill set with a concurrent increase in value to that society. Without even a job, there is a sense that one is both a burden to a community and inherently lacking in worth.

In searching for work, one is faced with another concern – meaning. Even with intense competition for every available position, the perpetual application process draws focus to our desire to have work that is meaningful to us in some way.

I remember as a child being told that I could be or do anything I wanted, if I just put my mind to it. This is a big lie. But it’s a lie that stays; it makes every job that doesn’t appeal to my sensibilities or offer an intellectual challenge seem like a waste. As much as I need money, part of me still objects to the idea of doing something I don’t want to do. It seems horrific to spend life working on something we don’t find important, squeezing in meaning on the weekends or over vacations.

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