Meaningful Work- Is it discovered or created? Part 2

In my last post, I shared with you how I’ve been grappling with the notion of meaningful work within the framework of 2 questions: (1) What is meaningful work? and (2) Is it discovered or created?

In this post, I offer different perspectives on this topic.

There’s a model that a number of personal development programs, consultants, coaches and authors use that offers a powerful way at looking at how life works called the “BE-DO-HAVE” or “Cycles of Life” model. I believe it comes from the “Hindu Trinity“- Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer).

Check out this image…

I’ll use meaningful work as a topic to show how human beings operate in life.

Let’s say that I say to myself that “my work isn’t meaningful.” There’s a sense of something is “wrong” here. My job is to fix it and find out how. “There must be something else I can do that’s meaningful for me.”

So, I do some research- read books, check out websites, listen to the experts and what I find out is that I need to discover who I truly am. There are a number of things (qualities, skills, things that I enjoy doing, education, experience, etc.) that I must “have” for my work to be meaningful. Then I’m told or realize that I must “do” certain things (work with a career coach; interview people; read books; volunteer, etc.) that will help me reach my goal of my work “being” meaningful. The flow in this scenario is “have-do-be.”

This applies to all areas of life. Many of us are looking for the recipes for happiness; for the “right” relationship; for the “right” diet: for financial independence. The idea is that once we reach these goals our life will be great- we will have arrived. For the most part, it doesn’t work that way. We’re still left not being fulfilled, not being happy, still feeling that we don’t have enough.

What I grapple with is that there are a number of approaches that claim that something like meaningful work is discovered in the course of life through conversation, as life unfolds, as we come to know ourselves. Each one of us has a unique connection to life and our job is to connect with a “calling.”

In the model above, the direction of the arrow connected with “how life works” goes in the opposite direction of “how humans operate.” I say (declare) that my work is meaningful because I say so- I’m creating a context a space for meaningful work (as in the story I share about the three masons in my last post). That’s who I’m “being.” Out of this context, I take the necessary actions (“do”) so that I “have” whatever it is that I’m “standing for.” Meaningful work is independent of the “content” (circumstances, form) of whatever work I’m engaged with. Meaningful work is “created.” The flow in this scenario is “be-do-have.”

What I realize in sharing this with you is that it’s not a question of “either/or.” Meaningful work can include a process of discovery as well as creation.

How this issue is living for me is that while there’s much I “know” about it, I’m in a place in which I’m examining what expression(s) my work will take in the next 20 years. One thing is for certain…I won’t retire in the usual sense of the word. I’ll always create new work projects.


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