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Thread: Finding Meaningful Employment; choices, careers, and callings

  1. #1

    Default Finding Meaningful Employment; choices, careers, and callings

    I've been seeing a lot of posts lately about people who are having difficulties in finding employment that pays well and provides a sense of satisfaction. I think if there was a magical answer to this, we would live in a much happier world.

    I wanted to start a thread where people can share their experiences, particularly the members here who have found work that has been more than a job, but rather an extension of their values and beliefs and brought them happiness and fulfillment. It's my observation this be a limited number of people in this world, but how do some of us achieve the goal of happiness in our work lives while others toil away at work that feels mundane and does not utilize their energy, knowledge, or skills?

    I'd really like to hear from people who have found satisfaction and meaning in their employment, and hear what information or suggestions they would want to pass on to those who are still searching for their place in the work force.

    For myself, I left home at the age of nineteen, and I spent ten years working in a dead end government job before I took the drastic step of quitting to go back to school. I gave a summary of this in a recent thread, modified an pasted below:


    I had just left my family home and an abusive father. I grew up feeling stupid and unwanted by anyone. I was working as a mail clerk in the government and I was settled on the fact that this was going to be all I was capable of being in life: miserable, simple work, but it had good pay and benefits. The plan was just live this existence for the next forty years or so and then I could retire with a good pension. That was the plan. No goals, no sense of achievement, no satisfaction but I had no confidence in myself that I was capable of anything more.

    A number of events transpired in my personal life: the loss of a partner to suicide, grappling with being gay, followed by alcoholism. I fell into a spiral of depression without any help. I worked at a miserable job all day and drank all night. After getting some support from some very kind people who became friends, I was able to overcome the alcoholism and cope with my losses and self esteem issues. A year later, I began volunteering at a local distress centre because I wanted to share my experiences and my empathy with others. I still had a miserable job during the day, but at the Distress Centre, I had so much life experience to share with people who were feeling suicidal, depressed, suffering from alcoholism, living with abusive parents, and dealing with self esteem. I was finding meaning and satisfaction in my volunteer work, and for awhile, it was enough

    It still took several years of doing this before found my courage to go back to school for social work because I wanted to continue this work in a professional capacity, and I needed to have the diploma if I was going to get into the field. I loved counselling, and I wound up with a student placement for an agency that helped people with their housing problems. It actually sounded pretty boring until I realized what the work was all about: Helping people with low income who were being exploited by slum landlords, helping single parents with children living in apartments with no heat, immigrant families living in basements with no windows, being threatened with deportation if they complained. This was more than I bargained for, and another path opened up for me.. I discovered that helping people wasn't always done through counselling, sometimes they just needed someone to fight for them. I knew I had found my life's calling as an advocate, as a person who was passionate in defending the rights of marginalized, vulnerable populations, and representing tenants facing eviction. I no longer viewed this as my work, it had become my passion, my mission and my calling in life. The truth is I never found my calling in life; somehow it found me..

    I've been doing this work now for more than twenty five years and I am as passionate about it now as I was when I first discovered it. I had a plan to go in one direction and wound up in a very different place, not one I would have chosen for myself. Looking back, I think I had a vision of what I had hoped to get out of life, but I stayed open to my intuition, often against the advice of others, and exploring new opportunities and new paths.


    I believe we can find meaning in our work by adopting a positive attitude towards it. We don't always receive financial remuneration for services we provide to others, but they can be the most rewarding tasks of our lives. Sharing our skills with an agency by volunteering our time and skills or taking care of a sick relative can be some of the most rewarding experiences in helping others, and also looks great on a resume.

    A friend of mine who works as a cleaner chastised me recently when I was discussing this with her, telling me she had no time or opportunity in her life to find a meaningful job because she was too busy working long shifts to raise her two young children. I responded that she already had valuable, meaningful work, which was securing an income to raise those kids in a positive, healthy environment.

    All work provides a service to someone, regardless of its level of skill, and serves an important function. No matter what industry you're involved in, the important thing is to commit to excellence and to exceeding expeditions. Be good at what you do, and be good at promoting it. It will be noticed. A CEO may know how to run a business but lack leadership skills, while the person working in the mailroom can inspire others.

    My niece worked in a KFC and she hated it. Like a lot of the employees there she was young when she was hired. After six months she was already promoted to manager, simply because she had seniority after six months since no one would stay for any length of time in what was considered to be a working hellhole. Rather than look for another miserable job, she continued working there and took a college course at night on business management. A year later she was offered a manager's position in one of the better restaurants located in her city. She loves the work and has the skills and talent for it, but it came about from taking something miserable and turning it to her advantage.


    I think the important thing in finding a meaningful job (as with everything else in life) is to make a decision, not to take a risk without a plan, but to weigh the options and then move forward without looking back. I was terrified in the last several weeks of working in the government before returning to school. I actually lost fifteen pounds due to the stress (and I was pretty skinny before that!). There's nothing wrong with feeling fear or being scared, it's normal when you make a big decision. You need to weigh it against the fear of being trapped in an existence where you're unhappy for the rest of your life.

    Choosing the right path is difficult. Think of it as coming to a fork in the road, where each path has a number of unknowns. You decide to go left, then you decide to go right, then you decide to go left again. The important thing is to take the time to consider all the options and consequences to the best of your ability, and then stick with the decision, unless critical new information presents itself. These decisions demand that you come to know yourself, so they are based on the person you are, and not who you were or hoped you were. Don't second guess yourself because it can just be self abuse. Doubts and insecurities will arise but it is all part of the process of growing.

    It took me ten years before I had the courage to start on my path, but none of us should undertake the journey before we are ready. For some of us it can take more time than others. There is no best career option, only the one that is right for you at any given time.

    I think in evaluating an employment opportunity, you must also consider how it fits in with your goals and skills. The important questions to ask are the following:

    What are my skills and talents?
    What are my interests?
    What are my values.?
    What is the income?
    Where is the location?
    What education is required?
    What will I need to sacrifice?
    Who can help me get there?
    Are there any resources available to help me reach my goals?

    By prioritizing these questions, it can help narrow down the field and goals you should be pursuing.

    The truth is, not many of us will become brain surgeons or great philanthropists. Most of us will do our work without great fanfare or recognition, however the work we do is no less important than that of the rich and famous. Someone who volunteers for charities, delivering food to isolated seniors, or someone who repairs cars, making sure every part fits perfectly and is top quality, all of these are critical services on whose skills others depend.

    It's easy to devalue our own work if we provide a less than creative service like data entry or answering phones in a large company, but such work is often the central, most critical link in keeping the business running. We are all links in the chain, and every link is equal in importance. We are all on this journey together.
    Last edited by Starrunner; 14-Sep-2015 at 12:22.

  2. #2


    There's a lot here, I'm not sure I can respond to everything Starrunner brought up. I'll start by sharing my own story, and then some other thoughts.

    So, my own background is that I work as a lawyer. I find my particular work both compensates me adequately to make a living and is generally fulfilling work, though my job also demands long hours sometimes, can be very high stress, and has a possibility of making it difficult to make and stick to plans in advance.

    How did I get there? One, I have had a passion for law for a long time. When I was in high school, I joined a mock trial club my sophomore year and competed every year at local and state level competitions. I did well at college, spent a lot of time prepping for the LSATs (I spent almost a month taking practice tests under test-accurate conditions every day) and then spent a lot of time studying during law school. I've always found the law fascinating because when you cut through the formality and some of the stupidity that they put on TV, it's really about trying to solve problems for large numbers of people and I think that can do a lot of good.

    I also spent a very long time trying to get a job starting in the middle of law school. No matter how smart and how skilled one is at a skill, the only way to really get a good job these days is with hard work and getting to know people. I applied to well over 300 jobs during my third year in law school, had lunch or coffee with over 40 different people in person, had phone calls with another 20 or so, and cold-called (or cold emailed) I think another 50-60 that didn't end up replying. There were some weeks where I either filled out a job application or met someone for networking every single day of the week while also continuing to do my studying and attend classes. I continued to network during my first job. In fact, the way I got my current job was through a mailing list that I only was on in the first place because I had nothing to do immediately after I took the Bar exam and simply offered to volunteer for free for a legal organization near me for a month.

    That's my story. I was passionate about a subject, pursued it, and worked really hard to meet people and get my name into the pool for opportunities until a couple of them worked out.


    Looking more broadly, I think there are a couple different ways to consider a job. If you have a passion and you pursue it, the work itself can often be quite fulfilling and feel meaningful without the need for additional thought or effort. But there are two problems there. One, not everyone knows their passions and may not know what they want to do. Two, not everyone has a passion that translates directly into work, at least not right away. Lots more people are passionate about loved ones, hobbies, art, or competition than there are jobs based on those passions. I think if one is in that position, the best thing to do is get a job that makes for enough of a living while seeking out passions. Sometimes, like Starrunner suggests, one can find meaning in a job because it's in service of an organization that provides something valuable to people. Even the most menial task helps make things run smoothly and makes other people's lives better. Second, there can be opportunities to pursue other things while working: continuing education has never been so good, with many universities providing free online courses and a lot of technological subjects having communities that actively create new tutorials and want to educate people. That kind of exploration can allow someone to find and pursue a passion.

    The biggest trouble I've seen is people who have health problems so that just doing enough to scrape by earning a living leaves them totally exhausted. All I can say there is that having one's health is incredibly important and to all of you out there who are suffering in one way or another, your first priority should be to do what you need to keep yourself healthy. That's what will enable you to look for meaning and, honestly, working to keep yourself healthy is itself a noble goal.

  3. #3


    I can definitely relate to this in most of what has been mentioned.

    I graduated High School in 2003 and wasn't sure what I wanted to do after that. I grew up with a Dad that served 22 years in the military and saw the benefits of joining. I took that into consideration but right out of school, I followed my sister to a small school and received a certificate in business office administration. I have always sort of followed her growing up because I looked up to her. After I graduated I couldn't find a job and my interview skills were less than mediocre at best. I was at a loss so I took my Dad upon his suggestion to join the military since it would by my ticket to see the world and have most of my basic living expenses covered.

    Well unfortunately for me, I was unable to enlist. I sustained a left hip injury during my adolescent years that still affects me to this very day and I didn't meet the physical requirements. I was devastated and went back to the drawing board with looking for a job. I still had no idea what I wanted to do or what I'd be good at. All I know is I wanted something simple and paid reasonably well. I know now that easy and good pay doesn't exist. You simply cannot have your cake and eat it too in the real world. I spent a couple years working at McDonalds and did security work for awhile. The pay sucked, the hours sucked, and the people I had to deal with was the worse. I wanted to become a police officer when I was working security but knew I wouldn't make the cut physically. Deep down inside though, I knew if I did become a police officer, I probably would've been on a massive power trip when dealing with people. I wasn't meant to do that line of work.

    I ended up either getting fired or flat out quit every single job up to this point. I knew I wasn't good at dealing with the public at large, and I couldn't do physically demanding work either. I felt as though I wasn't cut out for much of anything. I ended up once again following my sister back to school in 2010 for my Associates degree in Medical Coding & Billing. This here was the turning point in my life, but I didn't know it at the time. I spent a little over a year going through a fast-track program for the degree and graduated in April 2011. Now during this time I did end up applying for Social Security Disability Income or SSDI and was approved two months later. I sat on this income for three years.

    I think from 2010-2013 was the lowest point in my life because this three year span of time I had the chance to evaluate and re-evaluate my life. I was depressed and hated the world. I couldn't find a job, I was 27K in student loan debt, and my SSDI wasn't anywhere near enough to live off of comfortably. I sat at home hating myself and feeling sorry for myself for three years. During that time I joined Second Life and played that for hours upon hours to get out of the harshness of reality. Fast forward to 2013, I remember I had caught the bus with a buddy of mine to go catch a movie. I got a text message from another friend and it ended up being a potential job lead. I ran a quick Google search of the number provided and it was a fax number to where I work now.

    I sighed just knowing it'd be another useless attempt to get a job, but I did it anyway. I faxed my resume along with a cover letter. Not even a month later I had an interview but figured I had blown it and wouldn't even be considered for hire. I sent in a thank you email to thank them for their time. Well long story short, I ended up not only getting the job, but its been a job that I've enjoyed going to everyday since August 26, 2013. I'm now a full-time healthcare biller. Come to find out, I enjoy working alone with minimal interruptions and I love crunching numbers and staring at data all day. I work with some of the most down to earth people around and being in the healthcare field provides some job security because as long as there are people around, there will always be a demand for healthcare. Someone also has to handle the financial side of it too!

    Looking back on it now though, I remember in grade school my favorite topic in science was the human body. I now know my calling in life had to do with healthcare, but since I don't do well with direct contact with people, I chose the administration side of it and I'm content with that. I used to hate math in school too, but I'm crunching numbers all day and entering data for healthcare reimbursement. I think I'd be a good business accountant as well because I developed a sharp eye for detail, something that is much needed in financial matters. What I thought I wanted to in life and what I actually do are totally different. There were some things I thought I was meant for but in reality, I was meant for something else and this is it!

    What you think you want in life and what you actually need in life can often be totally different things. It took me ten years to figure it all out. It hasn't been an easy journey but I never gave up even though there were many times I wanted to. The only thing I regret now is not trying harder in mathematics when I was younger. Now I enjoy it! I may be weak physically but my strength is my mind. I am the type of individual that thinks before I act.

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