Choose Meaningful Work

Wen was the last time you found yourself in the midst of a project that was deeply fulfilling and truly meaningful?

Do goats have meaningful goals?  Eating everything and climbing the tallest possible object are solid candidates.

Several months ago, during a job interview, I was asked about my college senior design project experience. Having neglected to go back and refresh my memory of that accomplishment, I fumbled my explanation of our work and my contributions.  Yet, when they asked about my Eagle Scout leadership project, which I had completed in 2005, I had no problem sharing what I had accomplished, the challenges I had faced, and a wide variety of specifics throughout that particular design process.  I'd done no refreshing of memory; I had no need for it.

The key difference? Personal buy-in.

My Eagle Scout project mattered to me. The fence we built for the local conservancy provided a habitat for several goats, much to the delight of countless preschool tours and other guests over the last ten years.  While I'm not generally excited about goats, the chance to benefit an important institution in our community, alongside good friends and my father (for whom I was determined to reach Eagle), drove me forward.

My senior design project was, in the end, about a good grade. We were designing a SCRAMjet test rig with grant money from a large aerospace firm.  Interesting work, good friends on the team, decent progress by the completion of the year, and certainly important research.  Yet, frankly, I had little personal stake in it. It was a responsibility, but not a joy - perhaps mostly because I knew I would not see a direct positive effect on my life and community as a result of our work (at least for many years!).

Whenever possible, seek meaningful work. Seek opportunities that align with your heart. Oftentimes, we must do something because it must be done, but the experiences you remember decades later will be those you chose because they truly mattered.

What meaningful project is just over your horizon?