The Meaning of Work

If your work involves manual labor, you are transforming physical reality. Pause for a second, and realize how profound this is. Carving a chair out of wood, assembling metal sheets into a car, operating a machine that turns sand into glass bottles — manufacturing is nothing short of alchemy. Back in the Middle Ages, kings dreamed about converting lead into gold, but what we have accomplished is a thousand times better.

If your work mainly consists of thinking, you too perform alchemy, just a slightly different kind. Instead of transmuting the materials already present in our physical realm, you are bringing new ones into it. You are chiseling knowledge, ideas, and emotions out of the fabric of space — and that, too, is an awe-inspiring task.

Science tells us space is empty, but that is not true. After all, everything that exists came out of space. Earth. Other planets. Donuts. Skyscrapers. Even humans — you and I — are rearranged stardust. In that sense, sculpting a little more stuff out of ether should seem as natural to us as fetching water from a spring.

If you imagine this “life force,” this basic, cosmic soup, as something a little more tangible than air, a translucent, smoky substance perhaps, or invisible, rainbow-colored cotton candy, your work will begin feeling less abstract and more meaningful. You also won’t be alone.

In Star Wars, they call it “the Force.” In Final Fantasy VII, they call it “the lifestream.” Even the Stoics had a word for it: “Logos” — the divine yet perfectly natural “anima mundi,” the soul or spirit of the world. The ancient philosophers thought this “operative principle” of life to be invisible yet ever-present, elusive yet palpable, and they wholeheartedly believed it was forever driven forward by virtue and purpose.

The lifestream is more than destiny. It is not a predetermined future, but the raw material from which we create it. Whether we shape our contribution with our hands or our mind, we are drawing from the same source, and that source wants goodness — in creation, in history, in us — to prevail.

Every day, we collectively carve tomorrow out of the cosmos, and in this grand scheme of creation, smiling at a young child while picking up her family’s trash is as important as discovering the next cancer therapy that wins a Nobel Prize.

You are here for a reason. You may not always get to choose what you do, but rest assured that, no matter the task in front of you, that reason is always intact.

Your work matters. Thank you for giving it all you’ve got.