Can any work be meaningful?
That’s a tough one. But I will try to answer. Let me share some context to why I am even attempting to do so.
At CoreVoice, we have recently started to ask CVlians (people who work at CoreVoice) to reflect on culture level observations about the company. We do that in weekly one-on-ones. One of the questions on which we want every CVlian to reflect / rate their feeling is:
How meaningful I found the work to be – overall (whatever I spent time on since the last 1:1)
A particular CVlian I was having our 1:1 with, shared something interesting. He said he has learnt not to ascribe meaning to anything. So this question doesn’t really mean much from his POV. Yet he wanted to understand what my take on something being labeled ‘meaningful’ was. I shared my thoughts with him. This blog is a summary of that + some more reflection.
There was definitely a phase in my college life (2002 to 2008 – IIT Madras) where I thought a lot about why we were all living – what was the point? And I will be honest. Till date, I don’t think I have found out any specific point to life. You, me – all of us – we can choose to die today. The world will exist. It will carry on.
But given that for some reason or the other, the majority of us choose to live, day after another – I believe that this decision – to not put a plug to our lives, makes us want certain things – feeling valued, self-worth, love, excitement, joy, sense of having achieved something, sense of having played a positive and ‘meaningful’ role in someone else’s life etc.
Each of these needs & desires that we carry, means something to us – even when in the bigger scheme of things, why does any of it matter? It doesn’t – but, only when we truly exit the game. And since most of us don’t, I think ultimately, below is all that we really need from life (when we choose to accept its meaninglessness and continue to live):
- control – a sense of freedom and freewill in what we choose to do / how we choose to live our life / on what terms etc.
- material – the feeling of having as much money as may be needed any day for anything (in a way this is another way of feeling in control – but mentioning it specifically because in our present society its use-case is extremely well understood)
- excitement and joy – in what we do / how we spend a day
- social energy from others – it could be in the form of love, or respect or compliments – all those things
- contribution – a feeling that we made someone else’s life better / created something and put it out there
May be I am missing out on few points – but these are what come to my mind. When I started my consulting job, I could put a check box on material, excitement+joy and social energy, but I was unsure about what the level of contribution I was really making. I also didn’t like the fact that the job chose me (campus placement), that it was not something I necessarily went after – after considering many options. In short, I didn’t feel I had controlled my life.
When I took a one year sabbatical in 2012 (after four years of corporate life), it was mostly my attempt at trying to feel more in control. Even if I had to go back to the same job, the fact that I took a break to try finding what else I could do, was enough to give me that sense of control.
It’s another matter that I happened to be lucky, and did figure out a way to buy myself a lot of paid time to figure out what to settle on to (which in many ways I have). The journey started when I turned into a wedding photographer (been a decade now), and that decision allowed me to pick up storytelling, giving me an opportunity to observe life and human beings from a perspective that would have simply been impossible from a corporate job vantage point.
What was meaningful to me then, was getting clarity on what I wanted to do in this life, if not the default option that came to me in college. It’s been many years that I have been super comfortable being a storyteller. In the early years of my 3MinuteStories.com (3MS) journey, I found it meaningful to get to interview different subjects and get to witness a slice of their lives. 3MS is my short video storytelling brand under which I create human interest stories from across India (and abroad).
Then something interesting happened. At some point, the idea of human-interest video-stories stopped being as meaningful to me, as it once used to. It still is delightful – don’t get me wrong – but I have become relatively detached is what I am trying to say here. What is the point of telling these stories? Does it really matter? As I said earlier, every time I have tried to get the ultimate reason to why anything matters at all, the answer always has been the same – it doesn’t. And yet I continue to live – finding little meanings in whatever way I can. And that’s the point I am making here.
You want to keep living? Then pick up something that matters to you the most right now and in the near term, and go do that. Live that. Be in control. Accumulate the material wealth that you think makes sense. Never do that at the expense of excitement and joy. Seek joy. Be nice and bask in the positive social energy that you will receive. Let negativity not affect you. And when you feel like, contribute. Leave the world a little better than how you saw it. Yes it wouldn’t really matter ultimately, but it may make you see some meaning in what you do, where ultimately, there is none.