Jobs, Priorities, and Values

What does it mean to have a job that reflects your priorities and values? To those of us with the luxury of choosing our work, this question is endemic. Will the work I am doing now always fulfill me? In trying to answer this question, I’ve broken it down into values we often associate with work and tackled them: meaning, love and prestige.

I. Meaning

To me, in the context of work, meaning is the ability to create. There is a psychological power to tangibility. I want to be able to point to something and take ownership of its creation. I think this is increasingly important to me as global value chains become increasingly more complicated and people are further away from the love involved in the product of their labour. In other words, I want to be in a job where I can see the big picture, see the impact (whether on others or on a system) my work has

II. Love

I’ve heard “do work you love” more times than I can count. This is hard to do, especially when you’re at college to find out what is that you love. It’s made even harder by a job market that values particular occupations over others. Love is a particularly elusive word in an increasingly distracting world. I could find myself easily loving a number of things, fleetingly passionate but unable to engage in a life-long exploration. That is why it is more important that my work have flow. Work is “good” to me if it captures me so deeply that my passion is sustained, and in doing so makes me feel alive. There’s an elephant in the room, though. This kind of feeling is often associated with artistic pursuit, exactly the kind of occupation that would despair my mother. However, to me there’s a difference between making a living and getting rich. Given that there’s only a certain amount of money with an increasing rate of return, it makes sense to give up on a desire for a bigger house or a flashier car for a increased benefit in the utility I would derive from my job. I suspect this decision will be harder though, as I begin to seek recognition for my work.

III. Prestige

Until this point in my life, ambition and prestige have meant the same thing to me, leading me to the same end goals. I think it would be impossible to be where I am at Duke, contemplating these questions, without a certain degree of naked ambition. Even being at Duke and applying to college are a product of my need to make sure I am being the very best I can be. However, it’s become more apparent to me here that prestige, versus ambition, is a wasted goal in itself. Prestige is foundationally built on recognition from other people. It’s forcing your life to conform to someone else’s societal structures and norms. Ambition on the other hand, is the pursuit of excellence, as you define it. I’ve written earlier about how much I value growth, and this is an extension of the same thought. I would love a job that feeds into my ambition rather than my prestige; one that allows me to set my own markers for excellence and strive for them.  

A version of this blog was first submitted in Ethics 253S: Pursuit of Purpose