allenc allencheung

The Privilege of Meaningful Work

I’ve been listening to the Unprofessional podcast. The show’s premise is simple: a pair of hosts bring on a rotation of guests and talk about all things not work. But as hard as they try, their conversations often do end up revolving around professions and the stories from their workplaces, perhaps a tacit admission that work is an integral part of everyday life and continues to shape our identities. New grads and millennials have rallied around “meaningful work”.

In the past, I’ve argued the idea that privilege distorts assumptions and expectations. It’s a first-world problem: the vast majority of people on this planet cannot choose to have satisfying careers which can also sustain their livelihood, work that does not pleasantly make its way into podcasts and casual conversation.

Certainly, finding and keeping work with an intrinsic sense of purpose is ideal, and all options being equal every job seeker would gravitate towards occupations that provide a sense of doing good or can realize major impact. Reality, though, only has a limited number of jobs in these fields, and many of them are not particularly meaningful or interesting, but completely necessary for a functioning capitalist society. The luxury of pursuing an interest and following through to a successful and fulfilling career is rare and an unrealistic prerequisite.

Speaking from immigrant family roots, the types of careers that immigrants – educated or otherwise – end up with in their adopted country are often anything but glamorous. They’re stuck with tedious, boring work, with little advancement opportunity, holding no meaning beyond the reciprocation of a paycheck. Forget choosing to retire at 65; they’re trying to get out of the workplace as soon as they’re financially secure, likely with a small nest egg plus some expectation of government assistance. For these jobs which are merely jobs, there’s no glory or satisfaction in staying longer than the minimally necessary time.

Then again, there are certainly some jobs that don’t seem glamorous at first glance but nonetheless do provide intrinsic satisfaction, happiness, and a sense of accomplishment. Some people have been able to develop that sense of purpose, and they should be celebrated.

By allen
allenc allencheung