Finding Meaning After the End of Time

mayan-calendar.jpg I’m writing this in the wee hours of the morning of December 21 and am happy to report that despite worries to the contrary, the world has not ended in New York City — yet.  It appears that the Mayan Calendar anxiety was misplaced. So back to business as usual?

Not so fast.

No matter whether you found the whole Mayan Calendar furor laughable or sobering, the focus on the end of time is a good reminder to think about how we spend our time. The reality is that most of us devote the bulk of our waking hours to work, but how many of us find our work truly engaging? You have to wonder when the most commented upon blog post on the HBR Blog Network in the last 24 hours was Finding Meaning at Work, Even When Your Job Is Dull. The authors of that post begin with the following attention grabber:

Do you experience meaning at work — or just emptiness?

In the United States people spend on average 35 – 40 hours working every week. That’s some 80,000 hours during a career — more time than you will spend with your kids probably. Beyond the paycheck, what does work give you? Few questions could be more important. It is sad to walk through life and experience work as empty, dreadful, a chore — sapping energy out of your body and soul. Yet many employees do, as evidenced by one large-scale study showing that only 31% of employees were engaged.

Another post this week addresses the lack of engagement in the workplace with words of advice for managers:  To Give Your Employees Meaning, Start With Mission. The post begins by quoting Jim Collins:

It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.

I’ve written before about the importance of being purpose-driven, and these authors also focus on purpose, as articulated in a mission statement and as embodied by an organization’s leadership. The point of the exercise is that when you feel you are making a difference in the world, you will take ownership of your work. That’s a recipe for engagement.

Better still, engagement is not only for the young. In Don’t Leave a Legacy; Live One, we learn that age need not be a barrier to accomplishing something meaningful. The author is the founder and CEO of an organization,, that  awards Purpose Prizes annually to honor

…individuals who are making monuments out of what many consider the leftover years, not only finding personal meaning but doing creative and entrepreneurial work that means more — work aimed at solving fundamental problems facing the nation and the world today.

Yet the quest for meaning in work shouldn’t be overly romanticized. The author of Finding the Job of Your Life reminds us that

A meaningful job has boring moments, scary moments, angry moments. It is not a flat line of unvarying personal fulfillment. Nothing is great if it is monotone. There is no job of your life out there, waiting to be found. There are only jobs that may make you feel more or less alive. If you allow them to, that is.

While we may not be face to face with the end of time at this very minute, it’s never too soon to consider the importance of spending time wisely. After all, you don’t know how much time you have left.

[Photo Credit: Carolann Quart]

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