Several studies have shown that the experience of work is not always great. Most of us will spend 100,000 hours of our lives at work, and over half of our waking hours of our entire lives will probably be in some work. But only 10% of Americans report that they are even engaged in their work, which means that 90% of us remain disengaged or actively hostile towards work.So most of us see work as a curse and not a blessing. We experience it as toil, as something fruitless -there is no good that comes out of this whole thing-, and pointless -does not mean anything. It doesn’t do anything it doesn’t mean anything.
This has given rise to this desire that work not only will allow us to be ourselves but also will be me. A work that gives me my identity, work that gives me meaning. And many people are now working for identity, for meaning. We want to fulfill a need. We want to find work that gives us meaning, our identity, a purpose.
But that is looking for work to answer a question it cannot answer. Work cannot answer the question of who I am. We are looking for work to give something it cannot give, which is purpose. What it does, it leads us to make decisions and take jobs based on status, based on what we perceive our identity would be if we had this job. Or we would resent work that doesn’t allow us to express ourselves.
How do we escape this expressive individualism, working to find meaning in our lives, working to find identity in my life? The answer is we need to rediscover our vocation. Someone out there that is calling you. You are being called out of yourself to something else. Work is where I bring my meaning, my identity. It involves:
a) Looking outside of yourself and recognizing there is a need out there
b) Looking inside yourself and recognize that you have something to meet that need, that you have the ability to meet that need
It means an awareness of the self, not for self-expression but for self-donation. I am thus not going to look for my work for identity or meaning. I will not be afraid of fruitless or pointless work. I will not be afraid of toil. When it comes to work, it not the what, it is the who. It is not what we do but who we are or who we become. All work has dignity because it is a human action, it is a human decision.