Author Topic: Purpose and work  (Read 2080 times)

shicky

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Purpose and work
« on: October 06, 2020, 07:40:04 AM »
I'm in my thirties, live in the UK and I'm paid well for my location as an SDET, I'm in fintech at the moment but have tried other domains. I went to fintech because I worked in a healthcare company and although I enjoyed it, a lot of it felt like the same monotony, so I figured I may as well get paid a slight premium.

Nearly ten years ago I discovered financial independence, I was working in London, my then-girlfriend (now wife) got sick and had to move home from university. I wasn't in love with my job so tried to get home quickly as well and as I was going to give up the route to riches I was previously going to take, I ended up googling and discovered MMM etc.

I took another job in tech but a slight sidestep in role, around this time I also read Cal Newport's So Good They Cannot Ignore You and used that as my work ethos. Chase learning, gain skills, make bank. It did kind of work, I'm well paid but the passion and enjoyment he claimed would develop, well it hasn't for me.

This has somewhat dejected me. I lack a north star, a purpose to my work and as a result, it's eating me up. I feel like what I do is only really useful to large corporations, so if I actually get to financial independence, all the effort was kind of a waste. For example, I look favourably upon data science as theoretically even if you retired, you could still mess with open data sets and help communities etc.

This lack of purpose or meaning in my work has grown in intensity since my son was born 6months ago. While looking around to help, I found some copy on a sale page that sums up how I'm feeling right now:

"x was a high achieving mom with 2 kids who had been promoted through multiple companies going to wherever her bosses asked her to. Eventually, she realized that she wasn’t happy in her role, but she also didn’t know what she wanted to be doing. The only thing she did know was that if she was going to be spending time at work away from her family, she had to love what she was doing.

we helped her intentionally clarify how she wanted to spend her time,what gave her purpose and what she couldn’t stop doing even if she tried."

Can anyone set me on a path toward solving this? Sometimes I get so wound up and ruminate on it, it can be quite agonising, despite being such a good problem to have. I honestly feel like it's the only piece missing from my life. Many say I should just be grateful to have a good job, I do agree, but I cannot frame it in a way that shuts up the rest of my brain from these thoughts/feelings around lacking a north star and a lack of purpose.

expatartist

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2020, 08:14:32 AM »
Lucrative jobs tend to lead to this feeling. Those in such jobs who found a purpose in life tend to find or create it outside the nexus of their day job. This could be via side projects either tangentially related to your main work, or something altruistic that your work makes possible.

In my job (one less lucrative than yours but still comfortable) I experimented with a version of this until local protests then COVID made it untenable. My day job, like many art jobs outside social democracies, is funded by the large amounts of capital moving around the world, created by exploiting the underclasses in Asia where I live. So I decided to use my housing allowance to create a kind of virtuous cycle giving opportunities to artists from countries who normally wouldn't have the chance to exhibit or explore the art scene in our expensive city. To me this was a way of turning my salary and expertise into something that benefits me (more space for guests and exhibitions) and artists as well as exhibition visitors.

Each of us can tap into our expertise and interests and find a way to bring them into the world. It can take experimentation, possibly volunteering for orgs who may be in alignment with your interests could be a start. Best wishes on the journey.

Annie101

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2020, 08:16:50 AM »
When my second daughter was born I negotiated a part time schedule (32 hrs per week) and have been doing it ever since.  It’s been almost 8 years, and it’s really nice.  I’m much happier.  I realize that it doesn’t add purpose but it would allow you to spend more time with your son.  Maybe you could negotiate reduced hours.  I think the fire flaw is that people might work a lot and miss out on family time.  The years fly by.

ChpBstrd

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2020, 08:46:34 AM »
Sounds like you’ve figured out the cause of the dissonance. Your daily work is disconnected from anything to do with a sense of purpose.

At my work, my eyes glaze over at some point in these meetings where tiny details and rudimentary activity reports are being batted around like a ping-pong ball for an hour or so. Yet I observe that some people, particularly the executives, are able to maintain keen interest and think three steps ahead throughout this mind-numbing dullness, and they’ve been doing so all day in similar meetings. I wonder if they are:
(A) Simple minded enough to be amused and engaged in this way, or
(B) Aligned with their work and sense of purpose in life, and on their way to accomplishing something through their work?

(A) has a lot of evidence against it in that these executives are highly functional and can think very logically while demonstrating the social intelligence to navigate their perilous worlds. Meanwhile (B) is probably not as zen as it sounds. The executives’ purpose in life seems to have less to do with helping others, enhancing their life experiences, creating something enduring, or boosting their families, and more to do with chips on the shoulder, lifestyle creep, and status. Some may be radical ideological consumerists without thinking much about it. Their north stars may lead to advertisements. Many motivational books assume this is our North Star too.

It would be great if we could obtain the focus required to succeed at work because we are motivated by more dignified life objectives. However, some mechanism in our brain blows the alarm when we say “X is important to me so I’m going to do Y”. E.g. “family is most important to me so I’m going to put my career #1” or “I wish I could live a carefree life so I’m going to work all weekend.” When we try to force such convoluted narratives, our brain essentially goes on strike. (Of course, the same brain would love it if we’d promise ourselves a luxury car or fancy housing if we can get the next promotion. Our brains are skeptical in some ways but gullible in others.)

I have trouble getting my brain to go along with my scheme to spend a decade saving and working hard so that I can spend my remaining decades in control of my time. “Why not dick off right now?“ my brain demands to know.

There is also a possibility (C), and that is the possibility that some people genuinely enjoy aspects of work such as solving puzzles, socializing, or controlling other people. This is unfortunate for us if we don’t have our brain pleasure centers aligned with work tasks. Not even a good career counselor can save us if what we’d really like is an activity that doesn’t pay well or doesn’t pay at all. I suspect this is how so many middle class people end up pursuing consumerism - shiny manufactured objects are the only possible reward they see for work that must be done anyway, so they might as well work for things and get some fleeting satisfaction.

Good luck with your journey; I’m right there with you and don’t yet have the answer. My areas of exploration include philosophical stoicism and the idea that “extreme” efforts to pursue FIRE in the shortest possible time may be more motivating than the 10 and 15 year plans more commonly suggested. The writings of Jacob Lund Fisker are intriguing in this way.

ctuser1

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2020, 09:41:29 AM »
I'm a code-monkey too, and I find it oddly "satisfying" to oscillate between two extremes as far as this whole "sense of purpose" thing goes.

Part of my "free" time goes in pondering vast questions, listening to philosophy podcasts and trying to wrangle with the latest mathematical advances reported.

The other part of my "free" time goes worrying about something mundane, e.g. I am trying to get on with my home improvement projects for the entirety of 2020. DW calls this my "squirrel mode".

Losing a sense of purpose takes active thinking. In this yo-yo thought process of mine, I've found that I seldom have the free time necessary to invest in the thinking required to "lose purpose". The next scientific/philosophical/mathematical intrigue is just around the corner to take up that mind-space.

Of course, your brain likely operates differently. I just put out what keeps me going, just in case you find it useful.

SunnyDays

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2020, 10:21:36 AM »
The purpose of work is to get paid, hopefully well.  Period.  If you don't love your work, and lots of people don't, then you need to find your purpose outside of work.  Stop expecting work to be fulfilling and look at it as a means to an end, which is to allow you to one day do what you're passionate about full time.  Don't have a passion?  I'll bet you do, but it's been buried under lack of time and energy from having to work.  This approach takes a mind-shift but can make a job a lot more tolerable, especially when you know you only have to do it for X amount of time and then you're free.  I highly recommend that you read "Your Money or Your Life" for more on this.  It can be a life-changer.

bbqbonelesswing

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2020, 10:57:19 AM »
The purpose of work is to get paid, hopefully well.  Period.  If you don't love your work, and lots of people don't, then you need to find your purpose outside of work.  Stop expecting work to be fulfilling and look at it as a means to an end, which is to allow you to one day do what you're passionate about full time.  Don't have a passion?  I'll bet you do, but it's been buried under lack of time and energy from having to work.  This approach takes a mind-shift but can make a job a lot more tolerable, especially when you know you only have to do it for X amount of time and then you're free.  I highly recommend that you read "Your Money or Your Life" for more on this.  It can be a life-changer.

This is pretty much what I've settled on. Work is work. There's a reason someone pays me a lot of money to do it- it isn't that fun. Unless you're very lucky, you're more likely to have fun and find satisfaction in hobbies or side projects.

cool7hand

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2020, 11:30:53 AM »
You might start with searching for Tony Robbins's talk about the six human needs. Here's one version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNnEAQo1dBQ. If you can tie your work to how at least three of the six needs manifest for you, your job will be far more fulfilling. Perhaps it will help you identify where to seek purpose.

mozar

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2020, 12:34:53 PM »
I agree that work is work, but I just couldn't be a cog in a wheel. It's important for me to benefit society in some way even if it means doing work that pays less. I use to be a federal auditor for ten years and I naively thought I was helping to make government more transparent. I made 94k at the height of my career.
I paid off my student loans and then took a sabbatical. Now I'm working on becoming a high school math teacher. In my area they make about 50 to 70k. That's plenty of money for me.

shicky

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #9 on: October 06, 2020, 02:01:38 PM »
The purpose of work is to get paid, hopefully well.  Period.  If you don't love your work, and lots of people don't, then you need to find your purpose outside of work.  Stop expecting work to be fulfilling and look at it as a means to an end, which is to allow you to one day do what you're passionate about full time.  Don't have a passion?  I'll bet you do, but it's been buried under lack of time and energy from having to work.  This approach takes a mind-shift but can make a job a lot more tolerable, especially when you know you only have to do it for X amount of time and then you're free.  I highly recommend that you read "Your Money or Your Life" for more on this.  It can be a life-changer.

This is the view most friends are trying to get me to opt into.  It makes the most sense to me right now if I'm honest but also depressing as hell.  Maybe it grates more because I had a very high paying position and had to leave it due to my girlfriend getting sick.  I didn't enjoy the work so I hoped I could switch things up and find work I enjoyed.

I'd love to find something considered 'work' that I did for its own reward or that I just saw incredible value in.  Even if I wasn't able to realise that potential, working towards something I believed in would be enough (or so my brain says.)

I do actually still need to read the book, I'm on board for FI, just stuck in the boring middle and this work existence for another decade is pretty sad.  Especially if it is the case I hit my numbers, FIRE and then end up starting a different career that I could have been doing all along

shicky

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #10 on: October 06, 2020, 02:03:52 PM »
I agree that work is work, but I just couldn't be a cog in a wheel. It's important for me to benefit society in some way even if it means doing work that pays less. I use to be a federal auditor for ten years and I naively thought I was helping to make government more transparent. I made 94k at the height of my career.
I paid off my student loans and then took a sabbatical. Now I'm working on becoming a high school math teacher. In my area they make about 50 to 70k. That's plenty of money for me.

Awesome, congrats on the change!  How confident are you that it's the right move?  I've considered a similar one as I had a chip on my shoulder over an awful teacher experience and had some good moments helping teach concepts to others.  I need to test the water somehow with it to see if it's viable

mozar

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #11 on: October 06, 2020, 03:18:14 PM »
Quote
How confident are you that it's the right move?
I'm not confident. And maybe I'll never be! That's not the point. The point is to move in a direction I think is worthwhile.
I did an inventory of my strengths and weaknesses to think about a new career that would make money and would be satisfying. I also thought about what my must haves are in a job.

Strengths: bureaucracy and jumping through hoops, patience, listening
Weaknesses: working with a team, small talk,
Must haves in a job: Autonomy, no office cube farm, a job that involves moving around (but only sometimes, I tried being a carpenter and that was too hard for me physically)

Quote
I need to test the water somehow with it to see if it's viable
Can you tutor?

Runrooster

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #12 on: October 06, 2020, 07:42:07 PM »
I agree that work is work, but I just couldn't be a cog in a wheel. It's important for me to benefit society in some way even if it means doing work that pays less. I use to be a federal auditor for ten years and I naively thought I was helping to make government more transparent. I made 94k at the height of my career.
I paid off my student loans and then took a sabbatical. Now I'm working on becoming a high school math teacher. In my area they make about 50 to 70k. That's plenty of money for me.

I looked into being a high school math teacher when I first left academia, and felt more acutely the bureaucracy of education than I later did in applied math in the federal government.  I was lucky in that most of my students were college bound, highly educated, and motivated.  But high school math is structured to get kids to calculus.  What if they're mathematically inclined but more towards topology or algebra? What about numeracy skills? What about financial math, compounding, how to invest? What about computer programming?  I mean I taught calculus to liberal arts college students, and I value its role in engineering, physics.  But there's so much more, so much basic to all students that gets swept under the carpet. 

SuseB

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #13 on: October 07, 2020, 05:18:02 AM »
Sharing a personal perspective: I have a job that I love that does not pay well (publishing), but is WFH even in normal times and hugely flexible. DH who is of more interest to you as he is a techie (software engineer/developer/team leader) works in R&D in manufacturing engineering and finds the purpose not only in the fact that overall the company produces useful products (currently a major producer of ventilator valves, among other things), but also the general engineering ethos of 'making things work better' in all the senses of that phrase. So he can have meaningful input that means a product functions better, requires less carbon to produce, has fewer lines of quality code and therefore better reliability... and on and on. In general UK manufacturing desperately needs excellent tech people, but as an industry cannot compete on salary with other industries or locations eg DH would be paid three times as much in the US!

For us, in order to pursue our jobs with 'purpose' we have made compromises. We have totally accepted that we earn a lot less than we 'could' with our backgrounds and qualifications. We made a conscious decision to put family time first (we have 3DC) so we both work part-time - me school hours/mostly term-time, DH 4 days per week instead of 5 for the last 10 years. We live in a lower cost of living area (Midlands) and in a really nice place with great schools and community so our salaries go further than they would in London/south. And crucially, our savings rate is pretty good (30-40% of our joint income) and we're on track for FIRE in 2028 when we'll be 50.

mozar

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #14 on: October 07, 2020, 02:41:40 PM »
Quote
I looked into being a high school math teacher when I first left academia, and felt more acutely the bureaucracy of education than I later did in applied math in the federal government.  I was lucky in that most of my students were college bound, highly educated, and motivated.  But high school math is structured to get kids to calculus.  What if they're mathematically inclined but more towards topology or algebra? What about numeracy skills? What about financial math, compounding, how to invest? What about computer programming?  I mean I taught calculus to liberal arts college students, and I value its role in engineering, physics.  But there's so much more, so much basic to all students that gets swept under the carpet.

I'm not quite sure what you're asking. But I intend to teach at an "urban" school where the students are probably not college bound, educated, or motivated. Personally I would not enjoy teaching students who are privileged.  I doubt I'm going to have students who are mathematically inclined but more towards algebra or topology.
Separately I actually don't believe that the main purpose of school is to teach functional life skills. It would be great if (and is great) when students have the option of taking investing, computer science etc. as electives.  I certainly had the option to take computer science in high school.
I think that algebra 1/2, statistics, geometry are all good basics to have. And common core, although controversial, supposedly is moving schools towards teaching numeracy skills.
This is a topic I think about a lot because I regularly get students who ask why do we have to bother to learn algebra etc.

Malcat

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #15 on: October 07, 2020, 02:45:54 PM »
I've passed up on A LOT of income to avoid work that I wouldn't find meaningful.

It's not uncommon to struggle to find meaning in paid work. It can absolutely be done, but rarely comes without significant trade offs. Only you can know which of those trade offs are worth it and which aren't.

shicky

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #16 on: October 08, 2020, 12:31:49 PM »
I've passed up on A LOT of income to avoid work that I wouldn't find meaningful.

It's not uncommon to struggle to find meaning in paid work. It can absolutely be done, but rarely comes without significant trade offs. Only you can know which of those trade offs are worth it and which aren't.

What work did/do you do that you find meaningful?  What makes it meaningful for you?

shicky

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #17 on: October 08, 2020, 12:34:50 PM »
Sharing a personal perspective: I have a job that I love that does not pay well (publishing), but is WFH even in normal times and hugely flexible. DH who is of more interest to you as he is a techie (software engineer/developer/team leader) works in R&D in manufacturing engineering and finds the purpose not only in the fact that overall the company produces useful products (currently a major producer of ventilator valves, among other things), but also the general engineering ethos of 'making things work better' in all the senses of that phrase. So he can have meaningful input that means a product functions better, requires less carbon to produce, has fewer lines of quality code and therefore better reliability... and on and on. In general UK manufacturing desperately needs excellent tech people, but as an industry cannot compete on salary with other industries or locations eg DH would be paid three times as much in the US!

For us, in order to pursue our jobs with 'purpose' we have made compromises. We have totally accepted that we earn a lot less than we 'could' with our backgrounds and qualifications. We made a conscious decision to put family time first (we have 3DC) so we both work part-time - me school hours/mostly term-time, DH 4 days per week instead of 5 for the last 10 years. We live in a lower cost of living area (Midlands) and in a really nice place with great schools and community so our salaries go further than they would in London/south. And crucially, our savings rate is pretty good (30-40% of our joint income) and we're on track for FIRE in 2028 when we'll be 50.

Thank you for sharing this.  Your priorities are clear from your actions/choices which is really quite rare!  I should attempt another feel good sector in my current skillset before canning it I think, just to ensure that door should be shut!

shicky

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #18 on: October 08, 2020, 02:15:05 PM »
One way to solve this conundrum is to abandon good paying work and try to make it for a decade or two following your passion. It will be a desperate struggle, and will teach you so many lessons that when you return (in my case, by happenstance) to high-paying work, you will feel rich beyond imagination. I look around me and all I see is rich people who have no idea they are rich. But I don't regret the time spent doing my other thing. I achieved a lot there, just not monetarily. Eventually when I save enough I will go back to the no-pay high-passion world.

What's your story if I can be so rude to ask?  What fields were you in and what drew you to them?

Malcat

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Re: Purpose and work
« Reply #19 on: October 08, 2020, 03:47:25 PM »
I've passed up on A LOT of income to avoid work that I wouldn't find meaningful.

It's not uncommon to struggle to find meaning in paid work. It can absolutely be done, but rarely comes without significant trade offs. Only you can know which of those trade offs are worth it and which aren't.

What work did/do you do that you find meaningful?  What makes it meaningful for you?

Lol, well for me, it's kind of cheating because I'm a medical professional, so that's kind of an obvious one.

The work itself is only part of it though, for me, it's the people I work with a much as anything. I love a good cohesive team. I've had some jobs that were virtually identical to others in terms of the work, but a wildly different experience day to day because one team was supportive and thriving and another was toxic and miserable.

I can do a lot of different types of work if I work with a really great and well.organized team. DH is very similar. How we work is as important as what we do for our work.