Malcolm Gladwell on Finding Meaning in your Work and Life

As a man, do you ever find yourself lost, finding meaning in your work and life? Do you ever feel disconnected from your work? If you’re a man and you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone. 

Finding Meaning in your Work and Life

“Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.” – Gladwell, Outliers

85% of people worldwide report feeling disengaged from their work. Why is this? How have we gotten this so wrong? Why are so many of us so detached from our work? As men, we’re taught to value money and success above all. Although striving for professional success can be a good thing, where the message tends to get lost is in striving for work that is meaningful to you. Seeking out work that fulfills you.

So, what makes work meaningful? Is it measured by:

  • How much money you make
  • What your seniority level is  
  • How many clients you have
  • …or is it something else entirely?

Contrary to popular belief, having a high salary in and of itself isn’t going to be what provides you with meaning in your professional life (or personal life). Consider this question posed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success:

“If I offered you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and working in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $1000,000 a year, which would you take?”  

Take a moment to ponder this question. Think about your answer and why you would choose: 

  1. being an architect for less money, or
  2. being a tollbooth worker for more money

Which do you value more? Money or meaningful work? In answering the question, I’m guessing most of you chose: a) being an architect for less money. Therefore, most of you value meaning in your work over money. Why is this? Why do we value meaningful work over money? Because we are healthier, happier, and more productive when we engage in meaningful work

Meaningful work provides us with a sense of personal fulfillment, which will contribute to greater health and happiness. The positive effects of finding fulfillment in our professional work will extend into our personal lives.

Malcolm Gladwell on Finding Meaning in your Work and Life

So, how can we find meaning in our work? Just ask Malcolm Gladwell. He’s the New York Times bestselling author of five books, is one of Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers, and one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people.

If you’re struggling to overcome alcoholism, read Ben Affleck Opens Up About Getting Sober and Overcoming Alcoholism.

In his book, Outliers, he outlines 3 criteria for finding meaningful work:

  1. Complexity: work that engages and challenges us
  2. Autonomy: a sense of independence and self-directedness in our work
  3. A clear relationship between work and effort: a comprehensible return of effort; the harder we work, the better the results

For the question about choosing to be an architect for less money or a tollbooth worker for more money, here’s what Gladwell has to say:

“I’m guessing [you chose] the former [architect], because there is complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that’s worth more to most of us than money.” 

Therefore, meaningful work can’t be derived from status or salary. Meaningful work is dependent on whether or not our work fulfills us, which is determined by work that has elements of complexity, autonomy, and a clear relationship between work and effort.

“Those three things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our work fulfills us. – Gladwell, Outliers

The key to finding meaning in our work is through seeking out work that engages and challenges us, provides us with independence and allows us to see that our efforts are being recognized and rewarded. How we do this will be different for everyone, based on what our personal values and professional goals are. We’ve all struggled with pursuing work that is meaningful to us and living a meaningful life. This kind of pursuit can be daunting… but we’re here to talk about it!

On the other hand, you might love to read Jordan Caron’s success story as he overcomes porn and gambling addiction.

Join a Men’s Group to chat with other guys who are going through the same struggles as you and can help motivate you in finding meaning in your work and life.