Finding meaning in a postmodern, post-pandemic world

Our work is not measured by money and prestige, but by how useful we make ourselves.

Finding meaning in a postmodern, post-pandemic world
Photo by Austin Chan / Unsplash

Our job is what we do to earn a living. Our work is what we do that makes life worth living.

Ideally, the two should be aligned, but whatever the case may be, our job is just part of our work here on earth. Our work is not measured by money and prestige, but by how useful we make ourselves to others. Moreover, our main goal shouldn’t be to become happy, but rather to find meaning.

I admit that I myself am still learning this lesson. Our postmodern society puts such a premium on the pursuit of happiness that we actually end up unhappy. We confuse our jobs with our work, and our self-worth with how much we earn and what we can buy.

Embracing minimalism has helped me become less materialistic, but I’m still a work in progress. And I’ve realized that I have focused so much on finding a job that will make me happy, instead of work that has meaning.

I’m not saying that getting paid for what you do is bad. Obviously, we all have to earn a living in order to survive and support our family. But the point is that money shouldn’t be your main consideration, but rather meaning.

In an interview on the Knowledge@Wharton show, author Emily Esfahani Smith talked about her book "The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters" and the difference between a happy life and meaningful life.

"Human beings are meaning-seeking creatures. We weren’t put on this earth to feel happy all the time. We were put on this earth to find meaning and to live meaningful lives and to know that our lives matter. When we feel like we don’t have meaning or our lives don’t matter, then we become vulnerable to depression, suicide, despair."

Smith also rightfully points out that a meaningful life can actually be a hard one.

"I think one of the big distinctions between a meaningful life and a happy life is that a meaningful life can be a hard life. When you’re giving back, you’re making sacrifices. It’s a busy life. It’s an active life. The key in meaning is about connecting and contributing to something beyond yourself. If you’re busy because you have two different jobs, you’re raising children, I would say that the way to find meaning is to ask yourself how are the things that you’re doing supporting the people and the communities that you love? Even if you don’t find the nature of your work meaningful, you can find meaning by adopting this kind of service mindset."

As someone who first started working from home — working from anywhere, actually — more than two decades ago, one of the silver linings in this pandemic is that work from home has become mainstream. I believe it shouldn’t just be a stopgap measure that should now be ditched as things somewhat go back to normal.

That’s why I fully agree that the future of work is flexible and employee-centric, because it will help people find more meaning in their lives, and spend more time with their families and on the things that really matter.

The world has forever changed. It’s up to us to make sure we can change it for the better.

May we all find meaningful work. And may we all live meaningful lives.