Don’t Search for Purpose: You Will Fail

Don’t Search for Purpose: You Will Fail October 7, 2015


That’s what a recent article in the New Republic had to say about our desire for meaningful work and the difficulties of finding it. After noting a diagram that has been floating around the Internet showing how purpose comes at the intersection of passion, mission, profession, and vocation, author Jonathan Malesic argues that there is

a forbidden conversation topic in the peppier quarters of the internet: the profound disappointment that actually characterizes most people’s search for purpose.

You may develop your talent, and the world may be crying out for it, but no one is willing to pay for it, and so you must either accept your exploitation or find something else to do. (This territory has been explored well by Jacobin contributing editor Miya Tokumitsu.) Or you no longer love something you once found purposeful. Or your talent is no longer needed, if it ever was.

Getting all four alleged elements of purpose to intersect is incredibly difficult. Even in the best of economic times, people rarely find remunerative work that they also love. And in an economy driven by consumer demand, what the world wants and what it needs may be quite different things.

Instead, Malesic thinks, we should explore other reasons for working besides hitting that “sweet spot,” and we should not consider ourselves a failure if we don’t:

We would be better off if we liberated work from the moral weight of “purpose.” There is dignity in the struggle just to get the objective (NEED, PAID) and subjective (GOOD, LOVE) elements of our work closer to each other. If we’re lucky, then we will be exploited for what we are good at, and we will meet someone else’s need through our own exhaustion. There is cause for celebration in that.

We’ve talked about this topic quite a bit here at MISSION:WORK, too. (Here’s another one and yet another one, not to mention our ongoing series on blue-collar work and meaning.) What do you think. Should we search for purpose in our work? If not, what should we search for?

Image: Pixabay.


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