The Purpose of Work

September 27, 2022

What do you think is the purpose of work?

How about this one:

“Work is a transaction – trade time for money. Do it intelligently, and you’ll get leverage, where your time generates a lot of money, and even your money makes you more money. And do all that well enough you can retire early and escape the bondage of work altogether.”

Sound familiar? Or maybe this one:

“There is no work for those who follow their passions: love what you do you never work a day in your life!”

I swallowed both these beliefs when I was young. I alternated between trying to be successful enough to escape work altogether, and trying to find work that was so joyous it never felt like a grind.

Thankfully, that made me miserable. And in the misery, I started asking better questions.

It turns out, work is something far harder and more glorious.

In the ancient story of Genesis, God creates the first human and immediately provides work: ordering creation and tending the guarding. In the New Testament story of Revelation, work continues after all things are made new.

The Bhagavad Gita says “no one can gain perfection by abstaining from work.”

Our great stories through the ages are filled with heroes who leave comfort, take great action, and wrest from darkness the possibility of a new world.

Work is not a transaction. It is a relationship between me and the world. It is a conduit that changes me and changes the world. The challenges of work shape me, call me higher, and force me into the grind that increases my skills, hones my wisdom, and calls out hidden capabilities. The outcomes of work change the world – I get to serve others, make their lives easier, and generate resources that facilitate a life of flourishing.

Is work about money? We need money, and work must generate value to be good work. As that value is monetized, it provides the resources we need for a good life. But work is not primarily about money. It is primarily about the way I shape the world and the way I grow through my activity. Money happens as I am financially disciplined about that work.

Most of us are miserable in our work. We want to escape it. Let us leave behind the falsehood that work is a transaction of bondage and drudgery, and let us flee the idea that work is fun and the right work is never hard.

Work is hard. At times it is brutal. But it is one of the primary ways we connect with others, transform, and improve the world.

The purpose of work is the transformation of self through service to others in a way that generates resources.

It is hard and it is glorious. Work changes me, and it changes the world!

Struggling to believe me? Consider where you would live if no carpenters embraced their work, and how you would eat if farmers abandoned their craft. Consider who you would be if since high school graduation you simply sat around and did whatever you felt like.

Or perhaps your work doesn’t feel purposeful at all. You feel it is making you a worse person, and might even be making the world worse instead of better.

Sadly, that happens all-too-often.

We spend nearly 100,000 hours of our lives working. More waking time is spent working than any other single activity,

Let us use our utmost to align work to its true purpose. To turn work to what it is capable of: Filling us and filling the world with virtue.

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