It’s easy, when you’re a freelance writer invited to conferences, sent press releases and asked to attend rah-rah Meetups about changing industries, to get swept up in the positive passion of the moment. You come away from these things feeling like the whole world needs to find its individual ikigai, seek purpose over profit, and generally find deep meaning in work.
But every now and then, the cynical voice of experience kicks back on one’s shoulder, and you find a red-ink-scrawled note among your feverishly taken minutes: do I really care if my work is meaningful? Maybe I’m happy to spend 7.5 hours a day switched off, spinning cog-like, in exchange for money that I can use to pay rent, buy the amazingly old-school meat pies they have at Piedimonte’s (for now) and pretend my second bank account is for savings instead of a sausage roll while I’m at it.
Making ‘work’ the source of one’s purpose on this planet, for the limited time we’re on it, presupposes a certain worldview – one in which we only exist to be productive, and must therefore seek philosophical understanding in the clock we’re on.
It doesn’t leave a lot of room for, I dunno, kicking back in a sunny park with a piping-hot pastry, revelling in the sense memory of after-school treats while Mum got her hair done in Corrimal.
You can make an argument, of course, that if we have to work it may as well be for something in addition to a salary, but too often this leads to people with microphones telling me how early they leap out of bed each day to plough themselves into furthering their organisation’s values, hang out a shingle for virtuous virtuosities and force me to look up words like ‘metanoia’.
Meanwhile, I seek my meaning beyond the walls of what puts pie-coin in my wallet. Following Kurt Vonnegut’s famous advice, “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different”, and The Bloodhound Gang’s less-renowned motto, “No reason to live but we like it that way”, I don’t need anyone living and credible to steer my purpose-pontoon.
It’s okay for work to have one, limited role in your existence, no matter if you’re a call-centre drone, Santa photographer, bingo caller, middle manager or CEO. Finding your purpose elsewhere doesn’t make you less of a fulfilled human – and will probably keep you psychologically afloat when you get made redundant, the company collapses or there’s a 180-degree shift in thinking about how this industry should operate.