Meaning in Work

Jeff is wondering about the meaning of work — something I’ve been thinking about for the past few years. Why am I doing this? What benefit do I see? What does my contribution mean? Is my work meaningful to me or is it just a way to make money — that is, is it all for “the company” or is there some value for me personally apart from a way to pay the mortgage?

Some people would wonder why I even care about these sorts of things. After all, they operate from an assumption that the work world doesn’t offer any deeper meaning. They can comfortably exchange any value they create (i.e. their work) for money without considering any further benefit because they never expected anything else. I’ve even met a few people who are so unconcerned with what they do that they are perfectly willing to flip burgers as long as they get paid.

Why do I think I “deserve” anything else besides a paycheck for the work that I do. Why do I expect to gain a personal benefit from my work?

In one sense, I don’t. I accepted this work, this job, knowing that the company’s focus was not on me and my satisfaction, but, instead, they wanted to make money. I understood that they were using me and my work in exchange for some sum of money. This is the only agreement that we had. I work, I get paid.

Somehow, my ego expects more. I want to know that the eight or so hours I spend at work have meaning beyond their bottom line. I spend almost a third of my adult life here, I want access to some of the value I create, too.

Ultimatly, I find that working with freely-redistributable software helps me fulfill my work obligations (I manage systems that run mostly-free software) and my personal desire for fulfillment (I can contribute a lot of my work back to the community).

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