Meaningful Work

by | Mar 29, 2024

Meaningful Work


I’m fond of the month of March for several reasons. First, it is when the short dreary grey wet days of winter start to convert into longer and brilliant ones. It is always delightful to spot the first tiny leaves sprouting from buds on trees that have been dormant throughout winter.  Secondly, my mother and some of my other favourite people were born in March. Another reason why I like it is because it is the month when I started my company Nurture. This March marks its 15th year anniversary. This is very much a gratifying surprise because I never thought I’d be at it for this long and still really enjoy what I do. This is by far the longest I’ve worked at any job, never thought it was possible. I wondered how I’ve managed it? I concluded that it is because I find my work meaningful. I then questioned if this means that I hadn’t found the various jobs I had had prior to this role meaningful? My initial reaction to this question was panic, that it meant that I had spent almost two decades of my life not doing meaningful work.  To better answer this question, I reflected on all the jobs I’ve had since I first got my first one at age 14.

Meaningful: Freedom and Exploration

My first job was in a bakery. A classmate of mine told me she earned some extra money working two evenings per week after school. She explained that the job mostly required her to help tidy up the shop and get it ready for next day’s business. An additional benefit of the job was that she got to take home the leftover baked goods. I thought about how nice it would be for me to have money to buy clothes from my favourite shop (Miss Selfridge) that I couldn’t afford on my pocket money.  I didn’t care to eat baked goods but I did enjoy baking, so I thought it would also be cool to see how it was done professionally. With her help I got a job there. I discovered that the real work of professional baking happened in the very early morning so I never actually got to learn anything about baking. I only stayed at this job for a couple of months because I heard from another friend that you could earn more money working part-time in a shoe shop. But then I had come to the realisation that if I were able to earn enough money and not be financially dependent on my family, I would have more control over my life. And that became my purpose for my second job in a shoe shop. I ended up in the most expensive shoe shop in town. This was in the late 1980s and they had shoes that cost hundreds of pounds.  I worked the legally allowed hours for 15 year olds to work (two evenings after school and Saturdays and extra hours during the school holidays). Apart from the hourly rate, it also paid commission on every pair of shoes you sold. It turned out that I was good at selling. Thanks to this, I became financially independent from my family. I stayed at the job till I was 18 and ready to go off to university. Now legally an adult and no longer having to worry about family control, my purpose for working changed.  I was ready to leave behind the small city of Bath in search of the adventures to be had in the metropolis so I decided to study in London. I needed to fund the luxury of studying in the most expensive city in the country. Luckily for me, the managers at the shoe shop kindly arranged a part-time role for me in one of their branches closest to my university campus in London. Once I got a taste for interacting with the diverse peoples, cultures and foods London offered, I wanted more. I wanted to check out some of the places the people I was meeting were from. With that, my working life from age 18-26 was motivated by the need to fund my schooling (I obtained two degrees and fluency in Spanish) and exploration (I travelled to North and South America and ended up living in three different countries).

Meaningful: Career

At age 26 I thought I’d give careering a go and put to use my newly acquired masters degree in Information Systems. For the next 6 years plus, I worked in various roles from software engineer to systems analyst to technical support. While there were parts of this experience I appreciated–problem solving, living and working in New York city and Rotterdam, friendships made, and the financial compensation–I was mostly dissatisfied. Having heard for years about the City of London as the financial centre of the world, I was curious to find out what all the fuss was about so I got a job there in one of the leading investment banks. I worked at both its offices in London and New York City, and interacted with people from the upper echelon of society, from billionaires to CEOs to politicians to trust fund babies. I learnt that the popular cliches about money were true: money indeed did make the world go round, money was power…  I realised that my values were out of sync with the world I found myself in because I was surrounded mostly by people whose sole purpose was to make as much money as possible. And I didn’t find the work sufficiently intellectually stimulating. I came to this realisation pretty early in my time at the bank so I spent the majority of my spare time outside work searching for ideas on what I could do next. It was on one of my research excursions–I went to a trade show in Guangzhou, China–that I got the idea to move to China and study Mandarin. I figured this would be much better use of my time while I figured out what was next professionally. 

Meaningful: Usefulness 

When I moved to China, my main focus was learning Mandarin but as I couldn’t imagine it would keep me busy enough (I was wrong, the program at BLCU was pretty intense),  so I decided to get a part-time job teaching business English. Through this job I got to work with many diverse professionals like investment bankers, engineers, designers, and scientists in industries such as banking, manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals. It was refreshing to meet many people who were motivated to create, have a positive impact on the world and help develop their country. I noticed that there was a common problem in these companies I taught at, that many of these professionals struggled to effectively engage and influence their key stakeholders. At times it had detrimental consequences on careers and organisations. It dawned on me that I had skills and experiences acquired from my previous roles that could be put to good use to solve this problem. And that’s what I’ve been doing since.

Reflecting on my three and half decades of work I can definitely say every single job I’ve had has been meaningful because each one served an intentional purpose and delivered valuable outcomes. My current role has been the longest because it is more in line with my values–to be useful to others and hopefully leave a lasting positive impact. This has been a very powerful motivator, and incredibly rewarding. This role has enriched my life in ways I never imagined possible. I get to work with brilliant people who challenge me to be better and be always learning so I don’t have room to get bored. For this I’m incredibly grateful.


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