Is your job meaning full or empty?

On my latest trip to South America I met a remarkable woman who I’ll call Maria.

Maria took care of my grandfather for many years until the second that life left him a week ago at age 96.*  As thankful as I am for her unconditional support and care for grandpa Pipo during his last years, that’s not the reason why I found her to be a special person.

Here’s why. 

After the funeral, Maria and I became quite close and she opened up to me.  During one of our last conversations she confessed that she had a dilemma and asked me for some advice.  She was in the middle of deciding whether to accept what most of her colleagues would consider an attractive job offer.   My grandfather’s second wife offered Maria the opportunity to stay working in her household and keep her company for an indefinite period of time.  In her new role she would not be required to take care of sick or elderly people.  In essence, Maria was offered a cruisy job for a very competitive pay.  Even so, Maria was conflicted because she happens to take pride and find meaning in her nursing role.  Keeping a healthy person company – although is easy in comparison  – does not give Maria the fulfillment that she finds in knowing that thanks to her, an elderly person has a better quality of life during their last years on Earth.

Maria’s dilemma reminded me of a situation I encountered some years ago while I was attending a sales conference as a medical sales representative.  During an afternoon break I overheard one of the more senior sales reps say to a group of rookies that they should give their new job at least six months, because after they got the hang of things, they wouldn’t have to do much – and still get paid well.  That conversation has stayed with me over the years because I’m still trying to figure out how someone can stay at a job where they get paid to do ‘not much’.  In this situation one might think that employees are short-changing their employer.   In my mind, the only one getting short-changed is the employee who is wasting their lifetime doing ‘not much.’

New York Times best-selling author and ultra-vagabond Tim Ferriss may not agree with me.  He might argue that making money without having to work is the ideal scenario because it means that there’s time to do other things in life – like dance Tango.  That’s fine by me if a vagabond existence brings meaning to someone’s life.  If it doesn’t, then a cruisy job comes only at the expense of the employee – not the employer.

Like Maria, doing something that I find meaningful brings meaning to my life.  That is one of the reasons I go to work.  The question is what brings meaning to your life?  Is that what you’re spending your lifetime on?


*Thanks everyone for your kind words and support. Given that Grandpa Pipo passed painlessly at 96, I feel sad that he is gone, but happy that he had a full life and I’m hopeful that he is in a better place. Fingers crossed that I inherited his gene pool!

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