Jobs and Work: Our Search for Meaning
There is a difference between the jobs we do and our work. We have to do our jobs, whether we consistently find meaning in them or not. But our “work” is sustaining, it is holy. It compels us to get up in the morning itching to get to our paints, to the song we are composing. It gives purpose to our days.
“I don’t have a job,” writer Richard Russo said, “but I have tons and tons of work. The work sustains me. I’m doing something that gives my life meaning, it connects me to other people.” He went on to define his work as that of a writer, but also as husband and father of two daughters.
If we are fortunate, like Russo, that which we do to contribute to the bank account and our “work” coincide. Meaning and the making of money go together. But in too many cases, and especially for those who find their life’s work in the arts, that doesn’t happen. It’s difficult to make a living as a poet, a singer-songwriter. So we do what we must to keep a roof over our heads and provide for our families. We do our jobs, and in them strive for meaning–in the relationships we make, the good we can do within the context of those jobs. At the same time, however, we make room in our lives for our “other” work. That which pulls at us and excites us. That which is a calling, similar to a spiritual calling.
“This is satisfying work,” my poet friend said of editing the poems in her latest manuscript, arranging the pieces into a whole, refining, working on the details. And when one book is done, one painting, one play scripted and performed, it is time to work on another. “Find a happy person,” Sonya Lyubomirsky said, “and you will find a project.” And you will find someone in the search for meaning.
Work means making and polishing, striving for a certain look or feel, searching for a certain something that may be impossible to define. It means changing as our lives do, and finding meaning in new ways. In addition to creating beauty through his painting, Monet designed and brought forth beauty in his garden in Giverny. That was part of his work. We paint or write or make music. Dry a child’s tears and share encouraging words with someone going through a rough time. We try to make a difference in the world—doing our work as well as our jobs, finding meaning and purpose.