Vertical Development

Finding Your Life’s Work Is About Finding Meaning in Your Story

How to succeed in a “post-career” world – Big Think
The “career” is becoming a relic of the past. Today, people are searching for meaning in their work and writing their own rules of success.

For a growing number of people, work is no longer about the numbers; it’s about finding meaning in their story.

The combination of all these things has led to a world where workers are no longer bound by pre-existing narratives. You aren’t expected to pick a career at 21, do it for the rest of your life, and jump when the job says jump. Those days are over.

A career is a remarkably recent invention, coined about a century ago. It’s a coherent path that characterizes a person’s work life based on their choice of occupation and employer (or string of employers). It’s something that is perceived to have a beginning, a middle, and an end — starting at, say, 20 and ending at 60.

So the very idea that your 12-year-old or my 18-year-old can be expected to choose the work they want to do 25 years from now is laughable.

I think every conversation about work is really a conversation about values.

Fewer people are searching merely for work. Most people are searching for work with meaning, but we are failing to recognize what’s really going on.

First of all, we have to understand the difference between happiness and meaning. Happiness is an emotion that’s present and fleeting. The problem with happiness is that you can’t always be happy. Sometimes, your roof gets taken off in a tornado. Sometimes you get cancer at 43 years old. Sometimes, you’re a journalist and journalism disappears.

That’s where meaning comes in. At its core, meaning stitches together the past, present, and future to stabilize and reorient ourselves. It’s what we use to find well-being in moments of unhappiness.

The essence of a meaning audit is to help people stitch their meaning together. It’s a series of questions to ask yourself to try to figure out what you want to do now — not six months ago but today — and then look forward.

Work is not exclusively about salary or benefits or hours. It’s not just productivity, profit, and loss. It’s also about meaning. It’s about purpose, identity, exhaustion, renewal, and happiness.

The only way to write a successful story is to resist the climbing. The primary way we’ve talked about work is about climbing: a higher floor, bigger office, greater benefits, more salary. But the people who are happiest and most successful don’t just climb. They also dig. It’s an act of personal archeology to figure out the story you’ve been trying to tell your whole life. The hardest part is giving yourself permission to tell that story even if it disappoints somebody else.

Your work is a story. Each of us has to construct that truth, so run toward the words, embrace the literature. Write your own story.

Perfectly describes vertical development, whereby our needs and values change as we level up to higher levels of consciousness. It also relates to the difference in how our base psychological levels focus on happiness, whereas our higher psychological levels focus on meaning.

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