Meaningful Work

by margaret turner

Recently I was talking with my colleague Nancy about her work for FLOW.  Nancy is FLOW’s Dot Counter, or numbers person.  She handles financial systems and bookkeeping.  She was telling me how she loves the challenge of figuring out the most efficient way of dealing with a set of data, and how much fun it is to solve complex tasks and solving problems for her clients.

Although Nancy didn’t use the term, what she was talking about was meaningful work.  Crystal’s recent “Why do you do it?” blogs come at the topic from another angle.


As Nancy was speaking so thoughtfully about her work, I was thinking “Wow, she is so lucky.”  Not only had she discovered what work was meaningful for her, she had found—or made—the opportunity to actually do it.


So many people don’t have meaningful work.  They have a job that, as soon as the clock says they can leave, they try to forget until they have to go back again tomorrow.  It’s a necessary evil in their lives, the need to earn a living at a job they don’t much like or value.  Others have figured out what their ideal work looks like, but for any number of reasons don’t have a hope of doing it.

So I think the people who have meaningful work are so lucky.  Maybe luck isn’t the right word; maybe it’s a gift to know where we’re supposed to be, and what we can find satisfaction doing.  Some people know at an early age what their meaningful work will be—I’m thinking of my blog a few weeks ago about Michael Phelps, and his 7 days a week in the pool at age 11.  Other people call their meaningful work a vocation.   In any case, I think Nancy knew early on where her meaningful work was, since she’s been doing it for most of her professional life.

Nancy also talked about “the freedom to offer what I can,” and said she’d be a full-time volunteer if her circumstances allowed.  That’s why social enterprise appeals to her, and is another reason she’s part of the FLOW team:  while she helps people with what she’s good at, she contributes to a greater good through the projects and people in which FLOW invests its profits. 

My most meaningful work so far has been as a volunteer tutor at Action Read, a community literary centre in Guelph.  I didn’t know it would be like that when I started but, to paraphrase a comment from somebody at Action Read, every day I’m there I am reminded of what’s important in life.  That’s capital-M meaningful.

Do you have meaningful work, paid or unpaid?  Do you know what meaningful work would look like for you, if you had the chance to do it?