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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Finding Meaning in Work

There are times I wish that I was one of those people who just didn't care what they did for work. I know people who would do almost anything that didn't violate their sense of right and wrong to make money, and I admire them. I have also read all of the admonitions by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other esteemed spiritual teachers and religious leaders that it doesn't matter what you do for a living (within the boundaries of ethical propriety, of course), as long as you put your self into your work with right effort it can even be a path to awakening. I believe them, I really do - but it's just not my experience.

Don't  misunderstand, if you are just fine with doing anything that pays a decent wage because you see it as a way to pay your bills and provide for your family I have no problem with that. In fact, I wish I could be like you. I wish I could toddle off to a place where something was made that nobody would ever buy, that wouldn't negatively impact anything or anyone but wouldn't positively impact them, either, and be perfectly content. I just can't do it. I certainly have tried - more than once.

I can be very creative in seeing some of the things I have done for work as meaningful. When I was doing field inspections on homes in foreclosure and vacant homes I was able to see value in being kind and compassionate to the people I encountered as I went about my business. In the case of the vacant properties, I realized that by checking on them and making sure they weren't being used as drug houses I was doing a small part to keep neighborhoods a little bit safer. Even when I encountered people being displaced by banks that had essentially stolen their homes from them in the mortgage scandals of the last five years I could listen to their stories with a sympathetic ear and treat them with dignity and respect. I don't really think I need much of a window to see some good in most work, but I do need something. Right now, in the middle of a job hunt, I am having trouble finding it.

For me, "making money" is not reason enough to take a job if the job involves little more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic or - even worse - throwing people overboard. I recognize that from a Buddhist perspective there are very few jobs that aren't considered right livelihood, but I'd be hard pressed to work at a many place that in the strictest sense of the term does offer right livelihood. I suppose it's in part due to my complete rejection of most everything that caused my father to be absent during my childhood. He was a workaholic who during my teen years was an executive in the paper converting industry, the industry which makes the equipment that makes cartons and boxes for everything from cigarettes to McDonald's French fries. To him, I was less important than a French fry box. I suppose that's a message I never wanted to send to anyone, and I can live with that.

The problem is that our employment options narrow as we age. I don't consider myself old, but employers do. I also have some physical limitations that make some employment options unrealistic. That being said, I don't need a position with benefits, I just need a position in which I can feel of benefit. That's turning out to be harder than you might think.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very insightful and touching piece. Finding meaning in work is sometimes elusive and, like your father, we find wrong meaning particularly when it has to do with our ego and false self identification. Our society was built on the notion of dignity in work but we have lost even that and now idolize idleness of mind and body as ideal. We think more of Powerball winners than we do of craftsmen, teachers, farmers and others. Our jobs have become places of unrealistic performance objectives and sales numbers. Our schools teach to the test and medical care is a process of insurance codes. I don't know enough about your background but you are a natural speaker, writer and teacher. I hope that you would find a niche that fully exploits your gifts and yearnings.