Here’s a thought-provoking question that writer and lecturer Roman Krznaric poses at the end of the first chapter of his very good little paperback book, How to Find Fulfilling Work (2012):
What is your current work doing to you as a person — to your mind, character and relationships?
I’ve heard and offered less compelling variations of questions like this one — How’s work going? What’s good and bad about your occupation? Is your job meeting your needs? — but nothing so neatly framed.
School of Life series
How to Find Fulfilling Work is one in a series of short books on practical philosophy sponsored by The School of Life, a London-based entity that offers “a variety of programmes and services concerned with how to live wisely and well.” The book series is entering the U.S., and this title will be available soon.
The School of Life sounds like a fascinating initiative. Reading its description makes me wish we had something similar here in Boston:
The School of Life is a place to step back and think intelligently about these and other concerns. You will not be cornered by any dogma, but directed towards a variety of ideas – from philosophy to literature, psychology to the visual arts – that tickle, exercise and expand your mind. You’ll meet other curious, sociable and open-minded people in an atmosphere of exploration and enjoyment.
The quest for fulfilling work
Krznaric mixes ground-level philosophy, vocational guidance, and inspiration into this quick read. Here are the chapter titles:
The Age of Fulfillment
A Short History of Career Confusion
Giving Meaning to Work
Act First, Reflect Later
The Longing for Freedom
How to Grow a Vocation
The book concludes with helpful recommendations of books, movies, and other resources to help people in their quests for work that suits them.
But first: Basic needs and obligations
If you’re weighing your career and vocational options, especially with an eye toward pursuing more meaningful work, this book is worth your time.
But I also know that some readers are not in a position to be selective. They need decent paying work, period, and with bills mounting they’ll be grateful for whatever comes their way. Indeed, anyone who is free enough to consider options for making work a fulfilling activity in itself is very fortunate.
So, if you need to pay for food, shelter, and clothing, the type of work you’re doing may matter a whole lot less than getting a sufficient paycheck. And if your obligations include kids and/or other dependents, you may not be in a position to “go for the gusto.”
In fact, one of the few quarrels I have with Krznaric is his suggestion that financial fears can be softened by having a backup fund of three months worth of expenses in case the “dream job” falls apart. In the first place, saving up that kind of money is difficult in tough times. And secondly, a three-month emergency fund isn’t all that comforting anyway for someone who must care for others as well.
Still…my hope is that we will evolve into a society where decent pay and good work come together more often than not. Books like How to Find Fulfilling Work point us in the right direction. So, let’s put these options for individual initiative and change out there, and gravitate toward them when we can.