The Secret To Finding Meaningful Work

That shouldn’t be a goal, philosopher Roman Krznaric writes in a new book, but a process.

The Secret To Finding Meaningful Work

“We have entered a new age of fulfillment,” writes the philosopher Roman Krznaric, “in which the great dream is to trade up from money to meaning.”


For most of human existence, he says, people were too busy trying to survive to “worry about whether they had an exciting career that used their talents and nurtured their well-being.” But now as material wealth has grown, people are going up the and seeking fulfillment.

Thus his new book How to Find Fulfilling Work, which Maria Popova excerpts on Brain Pickings.

Since many of us in the developed world have basic needs of shelter and food covered, Krznaric says, people want more from the “adventure of life.”

We want careers rather than jobs and worker engagement rather than disaffection. We’re experiencing a change in attitude about work, and we want our working lives to reflect that.

The pessimist: Grin and bear it.

Such a profusion of positive thinking is not without its detractors: Krznaric talks about people that employ a “grin and bear it” approach to their daily doings, in which you manage your expectations and recognize that labor is Latin for toil and that work “is mostly drudgery and always will be.”

In this way, we can insulate ourselves from fulfillment pedalers and “develop a hardy philosophy of acceptance, even resignation, and not set our hearts on finding a meaningful career.” And after all, if you don’t really care about your work, you don’t have to be vulnerable to it.


The optimist: Go organic.

While Krznaric is more hopeful than grinning and bearing, he’s careful to note common career-planning pitfalls, like valuing salary above all else, worshiping prestige, or clinging to a notion of passion.

Instead, Krznaric says, grow a vocation. He drops a quote attributed to Aristotle–“Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation”–that reminds us of something productivity master Bob Pozen once told us: You need to not only know what you’re best at, but what skills your organization, your industry, and the world are looking for.

In this way, a vocation is not something to be found like a pot of gold at the end of the career-quest rainbow, but a process to be cultivated–or as consultant-poet David Whyte says, a conversation we have with ourselves over time. Less starving-artist compulsion, more continuously sculpted motivation.

Krznaric puts it succinctly:

A vocation is a career that not only gives you fulfillment–meaning, flow, freedom–but that also has a definitive goal or a clear purpose to strive for attached to it, which drives your life and motivates you to get up in the morning.

It is, in other words, labor that’s worth the toil.

How to Find Fulfilling Work


[Image: Flickr user Vonderauvisuals]


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.