Sunday, March 19, 2017

Is my work meaningful to me?

Sometimes, I joke (I find my jokes to be funny!) in my classes that the worst invention ever was one that goes back nearly 12,000 years--settled agriculture.  Until then, we humans were no different from other mammals in that we hunted and gathered to feed ourselves, and over the rest of the hours of the day, we played, fought, mated, and scratched ourselves.  And we slept.

Some stupid humans proposed that we simply stay put, raise some animals, grow some crops, and our problems began.  From that moment on, we were destined to reach the point where we are now.  Growing crops and raising animals meant that we could no longer simply hunt and gather when we felt the hunger pangs, but now had to start planning towards the next meal.  We had to start worrying about the crop going bad, or the animals dying on us.  It was only a matter of time before we played less, mated even less, and slept a whole lot less!

The invention of settled agriculture was the original sin!  I wonder when we started cleaning up after we defecated--I bet that was one hell of a "aha" moment!

Of course, it is all tongue-in-cheek.  I am mighty happy that we have a far better understanding of who we are and where we are in this universe.  Ignorance is no bliss for me.

The process that began 12,000 years ago has led us to the world today in which we do not hunt and gather our food--well, with a few exceptions, that life is impossible for us anymore.  Instead, we work in order to get paid, which we then use to buy the food and more.  The question then is how much do we want to work.  Not much work is needed for mere survival, and a lot more is needed if we want to lead a materially prosperous life.

Quo vadis?

In answering that question, we begin to interpret the options very differently.  Increasingly, most find the work they do to be meaningless.  I remind students that I am always happy to be in a classroom because I love what I do, and that there aren't many people in this world who look forward to Mondays.  "Be prepared that you might find your job to be boring and shitty" is something that I have often told students.

Some students do pay attention.  To them, nobody has ever talked about such stuff!  Which is a shame:
Studies show that this generation of students cares deeply about purpose, meaning, and happiness at work. In reference to millennials, one recent Chicago Tribune article notes that they ask themselves: “Is my work meaningful to me? Do I have a cause? Do I have influence, purpose, and alignment?” If higher education does not teach students how to explore these issues at the college level, students graduate at a disadvantage.
I never found meaning in engineering.  I didn't find meaning in the planning job either.

If only the world of higher education worked according to my rules!
Some colleges are already implementing course work, advising, and seminars to create a platform for students to use their college years to figure out not only what they are good at doing but also what they are passionate about. However, more should join the movement.
During his farewell speech in January, President Barack Obama urged young people to find their passion and “hitch your wagons to something bigger than yourselves.” The truth is, today’s young people already expect to do exactly that. Colleges and universities across the country must help our students meet that expectation. For the sake of our students and the future of our country, we must reinvent ourselves to help students explore meaning and purpose.
Imagine the narcissistic trump giving advice to students about "something bigger than yourselves."  Ha!


Ninja said...

Regarding the first part of your post, perhaps you are aware of the following piece by Jared Diamond:

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, indeed. Diamond's essay is an integral piece of such an understanding

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