Is your work important? Meaningful?

Like a lot of people, I was drawn to this TED talk by the death of Roger Ebert.

As you watch it, imagine how it must’ve felt to see that as a member of the speech synthesis team at Apple. Hearing Roger appreciate what they have done and describe how meaningful their work is to him, his life and his work must have been incredibly rewarding.

What a gift such validation must be for that team, in return for the gift that their work clearly gave Roger. Not just because validation was delivered at TED, but because it came from someone whose life was so intertwined in the ability to communicate.

Find meaning

Depending on what we do and perhaps because of where we do it, our work may never get validated in that way. It’s even less likely to be validated on the TED stage. I think that’s OK. After all, if your work is all about waiting for validation, maybe it’s the wrong work for you.

What isn’t OK is to spend a substantial portion of your life doing work that has little meaning to you. Is that what you want to tell stories to your grandkids about 30 years from now? I suspect not.

That doesn’t mean your work is meaningless unless you cure that terrible disease or rescue people in burning buildings. While there’s little doubt that kind of work is meaningful, but it may not be what gives *your* life meaning. That’s the difference.

Why spend your life doing work that doesn’t interest or motivate you? Why work at a place that doesn’t value what you do?

Yeah, but…

Almost everyone has had the opportunity to do what they might consider “less than meaningful” work because they have obligations to fulfill. Things like mouths to feed and bills to pay tend to trump finding meaning in people’s work, at least in the short term.

Even if you’re in that mode – and particularly if you expect to be there a while – find a way to make that work meaningful to you until another opportunity presents itself.

The speech synthesis team at Apple didn’t likely start their programming careers on that work, but something from their past that they found meaning in probably led them to it. Some of them likely had rather winding journeys to that team, so don’t feel like you have to be doing the work of the next Jonas Salk on day one. If you are, that’s great – but it might not work out that way when you start.

What are you working on? Where is it leading you?

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