Does Meaningful Work Really Exist?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash


We all want meaningful work, right? But does it even exist?

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series that will explore that very question — and you know me, I won’t leave you hanging on where to find it!

Part 1: Money and Meaning

What does meaningful work look like to you? What is your expectation? How do you know if you have it or not? Have you ever had a job that felt like meaningful work?

These are similar questions I ask new clients when they tell me that they ‘just’ want to find meaningful work. ‘Just’ – as if everyone else has it and they are the only ones who don’t (thanks Facebook).

There is a lot of confusion about what meaningful work is and if it exists. I want to believe meaningful work exists and that anyone who wants it can have it. This is one of the reasons I became a coach. Yet, I feel like the search for meaningful work is futile (ok, not something a coach would normally say) — or at least all this searching for it outside of yourself is in vain.

When we say ‘meaningful work’, it’s important to define it for ourselves.

PayScale did a survey of 500 jobs in 24 job categories (unfortunately coaches were not included) to find the most and least meaningful jobs. Participants were asked if they feel their job makes the world a better place.

Top-ranking categories in terms of most meaningful:

  1. Clergy members (all denominations) & Surgeons (highest for pay)
  2. Post-Secondary English Language and Literature Teachers
  3. Directors of Religious Activities and Education

Jobs were ranked by meaning and pay. Few jobs had both high pay and high meaning (except for Surgeons). And if you’re curious what the least meaningful jobs are: Parking Lot Attendants and Gaming Supervisors.

Obviously, this is a totally subjective survey. What does it even mean to ‘make the world a better place’? I’m sure my version of ‘better’ is far from Trump’s version, for example.

For most of us, when thinking of meaningful work, the first jobs which come to mind are Social Services, Firemen, and Educators (all of which ranked fairly high in PayScale’s survey). Essentially, we think of a job that is in service to others in a way that we have deemed valuable. This is ironic because the value we associate with this type of meaningful work is typically not adequately valued in the world of economics, meaning the pay is low (but that is a topic for another day).

Most people want meaningful work AND a high paying salary. That’s the issue – unless you’re a surgeon, you generally don’t get both. You can either have meaningful work or make a good income. You shouldn’t have to make a choice, but that’s today’s reality.

What comes to mind when you think about making the world better? Are you thinking about large social issues? Big problems that need to be solved in the world?

I used to think that way too, but then I shifted my perspective on how I define meaningful work.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Mindset Gives Meaning.

Do you need help making a mindset shift to see your work differently? Do you need help figuring out your strengths and knowing where to spend your energy? Did you just realize you need to change your jobs and the thought terrifies you? If so, I’m here for you. Connect with me to schedule a complimentary Strategy Session.