The search for work that's purposeful.

Barista Life
Photo by Joshua Rodriguez / Unsplash

It’s been three months since I’d quit my nursing job.

A year ago, I was dreaming of this life, one of waking up, working my own hours, and doing anything else I felt like.

I admit I didn’t want to quit my job. I was forced to due to certain circumstances. I felt extremely burnt out as an Emergency nurse caring for patients who didn’t care about themselves. So in the past couple of months, I’ve been contemplating why I quit my job. Was it because I hated the job? Or was it because I wanted to do something else? Or was it both?

Or maybe I was influenced by what I saw on social media. On every platform you go to, someone is telling us how they quit their job, and it’s been the best decision they’ve ever had in their lives. There’s a whole subreddit (/antiwork) on it.

But for me, it was different. I loved caring for my patients. And it made me think, maybe the goal of the great resignation or antiwork isn’t to quit your job.

Maybe it’s to find or create meaningful work for yourself.

Defining meaningful work

Being an Emergency nurse was meaningful for me.

Even though 80% of my tasks weren’t related to caring for a true Emergency (think: the person’s airway, breathing, or circulation is compromised), 20% of what I did as a nurse was meaningful.

For instance, giving someone a pain medication was meaningful for me. While I don’t know what others’ pain feels like, I know what pain feels. And having the power to remove or reduce their feeling of someone’s pain feels rewarding.

And when there’s a true emergency, resuscitating someone is even more meaningful.

What’s not meaningful is the B.S. that comes with the job. There are some patients who feel entitled and abuse the workers and the system. And to add insult to the injury, governments cap the nurses’ pay both in U.S. and Canada.

So even though part of your work is meaningful, the 80% that causes stress, anxiety, and depression causes you to leave.

Why is it so difficult to find meaningful work?

Whether it’s our society, our parents, or the media, we’ve been influenced by our definitions of success. Growing up in a third-world country, I worked hard to graduate from university and land a good-paying job. But it turns out our dream jobs don’t necessarily equate to what we (as individuals) may believe is meaningful.

We believe that having a prestigious job title or having the big five company name on our resume is what it’s going to make work meaningful. But it’s not.

You realize that there is so much more to life than spending 30% of your waking life at work.

And because you had a societal expectation, you didn’t learn to question the people around you. You didn’t question your parents about the way they lived. You didn’t question the tasks that you had to do. You did them because you were asked to. And you were afraid of speaking up because of being reprimanded. Or maybe you did, and the answer they gave you was, “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Until you’ve had enough.

After experiencing mundane, boring, and soul-sucking jobs, you slowly search for meaningful work, which can include:

  • The freedom to work anywhere in the world (hello, remote work)
  • The ability to spend more time with friends and families
  • The ability to not work on a Wednesday

The people who’ve quit their 100K to 500K salaried jobs to design their life teach us that money can’t buy happiness.

The search for meaningful work

According to the Census Bureau, the number of businesses registered in the U.S. raised 24% during the pandemic.

People don’t come to entrepreneurship because they think it’s cool. At least, I hope not. But, entrepreneurship paves the way for meaningful work. It gives people the meaning of purpose.

For instance, I quit my nursing job because I learned how to write. I took an online writing course that sped up my knowledge about writing. In less than six months, I landed my first client as a freelance writer. And it snowballed to other clients.

Now, I want to share how I got to a point where I did not know how to write to writing for a living.

And if I can help one other person do that, wouldn’t that be meaningful?

I know what it feels like to feel stuck in a job you hate. I know what it feels like not to have an option. So by sharing my knowledge through social media, I’m doing work that feels meaningful to me.

There’s a point to what I’m doing.

Even though sharing my knowledge doesn’t directly bring me money, it gives me a sense of purpose.

And for me, that’s enough.

So, what truly creates meaningful work?

Meaningful work creates a positive change — whether it’s a change in thinking, perspective, or experience of the person.

In one episode of a Netflix show called “Sweet Magnolia,” there’s a character who’s a chef. This chef is quite successful but unhappy. She felt lost about who she was and felt like she pushed everyone away who wanted her best.

She went to talk to a pastor, where the chef was asked, “What makes you happy?”

Her answer was so simple yet so profound.

“I love cooking. I love it when my food makes me happy. And people gather around my food.”

And that line truly hit me. Cooking for people doesn’t give me the same feeling as that character, but I know when your work is appreciated.

I love it when people message me, letting me know that my work has impacted them somehow.

It might be worth thinking that a job and meaningful can be mutually exclusive.

And maybe a better way to approach life is to find a job that pays the bills, in my case, freelance writing, and do meaningful work on the side (i.e., create YouTube videos) until one day, they intersect.

What about you? What makes your work meaningful?