meaningful work podcast

Episode 1: Meaning-making through work

Mar 1, 2023 | Podcast


Welcome to Meaningful Work, Remarkable Life. I’m your host Brooke McCarthy and I’m a business coach, trainer and speaker living and working on the unceded lands of the Camaragal people here in Sydney, Australia. In this podcast, we explore the paradoxes inherent in working for love and money, magnifying your impact and doing work you feel born to do. We explore the intersections of the meanings we bring to work and the meanings we derive from work. Let’s dive in. Hello and welcome to episode one. This is Brooke McCarthy. I want to dive right into the name of this podcast, which I am concerned sounds a little bit wanky. It has to be said, I just want to put that out there. Meaningful Work, Remarkable Life. I think it’s alluding to some snobbery. It kind of makes me think we’re going to be talking about a lot of things. I’m going to put that out there. It kind of makes me think, well, what about if you don’t have meaningful work or you don’t have a remarkable life, you know, is it about the haves and the have nots? Have I started the division before I’ve even really begun? Who can say? Who can say? So I want to kind of dive right in to meaning making. And as it relates to work, I think we all bring meanings to work.

We all bring meanings to our businesses if we have a business, if we have a side gig that we’re building or happy keeping as is, we all bring meanings to our job titles, our professions, and we also derive meanings from these things as well. So we’ve got multiple things happening at the same time. There’s a lot of meaning making that happens when it comes to work. And of course, why wouldn’t there be? Because this makes up a huge proponent of our life, right? These are like the majority of ages 20 to ages 65, perhaps. So what, 45 years, giant chunk of our middle years. Of course, we’re going to find these hours, these days, these weeks, months and years laden with meaning. I think also right now in 2023, I’m recording this in January 2023, we’ve got the great resignation or the quiet resignation.

We’ve got millennials who are on the up and up, of course, and they’re going to be making up 75% of the workforce by 2025. And they are very big on the meaning making. They’re very big on the socially conscious employers and making this a priority, making it a priority not just to choose an employer that has an excellent reputation, but also choosing an employer that is not hypocritical, that is following through and doing what they say they’re going to do, not just greenwashing. 

So I wonder whether that leads me to the next question. Are we asking too much of our jobs, of our businesses? When I posted this question in my Facebook group, you know, what is it that you’re looking for out of your business? I got a huge range of diverse responses that kind of made me feel less alone, I guess, because sometimes I think, you know, sometimes I get a bit exasperated with myself and I think, God damn it, Brooke, can’t you just focus on earning money? Can’t you just focus on doing a good job and earning great money? Do you have to, you know, be so deep and meaningful about everything? Do you have to go looking for, you know, so much from your business, kind of just satisfy one or two things rather than, you know, five, six or seven things? 

But I know I’m not alone in this. I know I’m not alone in this search for meaning and in this expectation that particularly for business owners, that your business will give you a great sense of satisfaction, will satisfy you on multiple levels, not just money, money and livelihood being one of them, freedom of flexibility being a big one. And definitely we’re going to be talking more about that freedom and flexibility, which sometimes for some business owners means travel as well. It means becoming a digital nomad or becoming a part time digital nomad.

I’m sure there’s an alternative title for this. I think my partner sent me an article. He said, I think this is what we are. I can’t remember. It was some weird new made up word, you know, about people that aren’t digital nomads, but they do like to travel and run their businesses overseas and have that flexibility and freedom to do so. And there’s also our identity for a lot of business owners, a massive amount of running their own show has to do with their identity. And that can be both positive and negative. That can be very complicated. And, you know, particularly when people start sentences with I’m not the kind of person who, you know, I’m not the kind of person that is great at sales or I’m really not good at this. I’m really not great at that. You know, I’m not doing it for the money, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. 

We also start businesses, you know, and in our work, we’re looking for a sense of belonging. And this, again, can be complicated for the soloist in particular who is primarily working for themselves by themselves, oftentimes at home, oftentimes a little isolated, a little socially isolated, perhaps lonely, not at all uncommon to be lonely when you’re self-employed. And, you know, for this individual, for these types of people, it can be a sense of belonging that’s most attractive about being a business owner. And certainly in the workforce, in the workplace, that’s part and parcel of it. I’ve often thought about people with jobs, you know, what limited experience I have had in the corporate world. 

I’ve often looked at people who are working their way up the corporate ladder. And, you know, I’ll I’ll be in a meeting. This is many, many years ago, many, many years ago now being in a meeting with people. And, you know, the boss guy, the boss man will be saying something along the lines, you know, some ridiculous thing. And the people that are most ambitious and that, you know, have been pointed out as they’re on the up and up, their careers on the up and up, they’re really enthusiastic. So I’ve often had the opinion that people that succeed in the corporate world are people who are great at faking enthusiasm and who are great at, you know, believing the propaganda. And perhaps if they don’t believe it, they do a great job of pretending to believe the propaganda and the sense of belonging and the community, the corporate culture that goes along with that. 

Now, yes, I am a cynic. I definitely am a cynic. But this sense of belonging is a huge part.It’s a huge part because we’re social creatures, we’re social animals, humans, and we like to feel like we’re part of something. And this includes the rebels and the introverts and everybody else. Yeah. If you’re not kind of party to that, then you’re likely a sociopath or a psychopath. Not necessarily. But anyway, I digress. The other thing that people seem to, you know, and when I say people, that includes myself, the heart, the mind, the body, the emotions, the soul work, you know, for a lot of my clients that work in health and healing. That’s a huge part of it. It’s a huge part of the work they do, the businesses that they build, the, you know, the feeling, the calling that they feel from this. And certainly when I am editing my perfect week, when I am refining my schedule, refining my Monday to Friday, my, you know, January to March, I’m often considering things such as, well, I have time for exercise. Should I be meditating more? Should I be meditating at all? You know, how can I bring some of that into my business? How can I integrate it a bit more? Do my clients want to know about this stuff? My heart, mind, emotions, soul stuff? You know, it’s a big consideration for a lot of people and certainly a massive consideration for people that I tend to attract. 

The other huge piece of the puzzle, the meanings we bring and the meanings we derive from work is this desire to improve the world, this desire to contribute to the future, to a productive future, to a healthy future, to a flourishing future. This is a huge driver for a lot of business owners and certainly for a lot of people looking for employers who are not same old, same old, who are not going to, you know, put perhaps a stamp of socially conscious, blah, blah jargon on their website and say, you know, silly things, bleedingly obvious things. Sometimes I think businesses are better off not saying anything. It’s just a lot of marketing spin. You know that there’s no thought or follow through behind it. So absolutely, this is becoming bigger and more urgent every single day. And hopefully, you know, I’m optimistic, I’m a delusional optimist that this is going to become more compelling, more urgent, more relevant to more people. That, you know, this big chunk of production, I guess, for want of a better word, production in those middle years of our lives that we should be actively contributing towards a more positive future, you know, if not for ourselves and for our children, our grandchildren, you know, our great, great grandchildren. 

Which leads me to the next point, which is the sense of legacy that so many people feel and whether it’s people that have jobs that are building wealth for their family and broader society, whether or not it is business owners who, again, you know, might be the first time ever that the individual has had wealth and not just had wealth, but had the ability to earn a hell of a lot more, had the financial mobility. Is that the term? Perhaps the financial mobility to significantly earn, you know, a lot more than their parents. You know, it’s very weird when you get to that point, I have to say, it was very weird where I hit that point in my earnings where I out-earned my father. I used to work for my dad, so I knew his accounts, I knew how much he was taking home. And it was weird. I didn’t like the feeling at all. 

But for a lot of people, this is a massive big deal. This is a huge big deal. So it’s not just, of course, our immediate blood family that benefits or that is influenced by the legacy that our work may give them. It’s everything else that we decide to do. So it could be, of course, volunteering, it could be financial contributions or charitable donations. You know, it could be a whole gamut of different things, really. It’s, you know, legacy building is a broad topic and it could really cover anything. You know, one thing I did not that long ago is I did some volunteering for a candidate, a political candidate in my local area who got in, yay, and she was an independent candidate and is now in Canberra. So the meanings we derive from work, I don’t think I’m alone here. I do think that this is a hot topic. I do think that we all derive meaning, we all bring meanings to and we all derive meanings from our work. And of course, I can’t speak for everybody. We should never say never, never say always, always say always. 

There are, of course, some people who are just working to work. They’re just working to earn money to spend on the weekend or, you know, similar. They don’t necessarily go looking for that deeper meaning. But I do think there is a sizeable and growing group of us who absolutely are looking for meaning for work and are actively seeking ways, you know, to have greater satisfaction, not just from a livelihood financial perspective, but for all of those other areas that I just listed. 

So when I think about meaningful work and when I think about work in general, I think about Halil Gibran, I hope I pronounced that correctly, Halil Gibran, who is the author of The Prophet, a book that was massively influential on me as a teenager and, you know, beyond. And in his passage on work, he says, You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth, for to be idle is to become a stranger onto the seasons and to step out of life’s procession that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite. So I think about this passage a lot. I think about this passage an increasing amount, especially when I think about not working. Because I think, you know, if I can be so bold, I think what Gibran was trying to say was that it is a very human desire of ours. It is a very human compulsion of ours to be creating and making something. It is, you know, it’s the soul of the earth and keeping pace with the earth. And also that idea of being idle is to kind of to step outside of life. And certainly in periods of my life, which, you know, thankfully there hasn’t been a huge amount, but in periods of my life when I have not been working, I’ve felt a great sense of, I want to say uselessness, but that sounds a little bit dramatic. A great sense of just being an outsider. And certainly I felt that a lot when I was traveling. 

So when I was 20, I went to Nepal and India and Sri Lanka. And I remember then, and, you know, at the age of 20, I hadn’t had a huge career. I’d worked in lots of restaurants and cafes and bars and things like that. I’d done a little bit of office work, not a lot. And I’d had concurrent jobs. I’d had two or three jobs at the same time as I was at uni. So, you know, I certainly had some experience of work, but this feeling when I was traveling was like every single day is you wake up and then you please yourself. Maybe this indicates what a serious 20 year old I was, you know, why that was a problem or why I even noticed. But, you know, I remember thinking this is such a pointless existence. It’s lovely and it’s, you know, enjoyable at times for sure. But it’s also kind of pointless. Nobody’s expecting me anywhere. Nobody, you know, will notice if I don’t turn up to something. There aren’t any roles or responsibilities that I’m playing here. And I found that quite disconcerting. I, you know, I didn’t really love it. I remember writing to friends about it. I remember it being commented on by my parents. They must have thought I was a bit of a weirdo as well, I guess. I don’t know. But, you know, and oftentimes I still have that feeling when I’m traveling. You know, I still don’t love sightseeing. I feel like a bit of a ninny when I’m sightseeing because it’s like, what’s the point of this? You know, we go and we look at stuff and then we go back to our accommodation. It just, I don’t know, doesn’t really sit with me. 

And then I think about, you know, a boyfriend I had years and years ago. This was before I went traveling.And I remember he wrote a song about me. I’ve had a couple of people write songs about me and they’re not always that complimentary. But I do remember this particular, these particular lyrics. He was singing something about you tell me about your work ethic. And if you can imagine that song, you tell me about your work ethic. I think I must have been an extremely, I was definitely an extremely serious teenager, you know, with high expectations of myself and of life. And, you know, already by the ripe old age of 18, 19, 20, already I’d internalized this idea that, you know, it was good to have a work ethic. It was good to be busy. It was good to, you know, wake up and be vigorously, you know, focused on the task at hand to be, you know, to be lively and vigorous and taking responsibility, blah, blah, blah, blah. And again, you know, I’m sure I’m not alone in that. 

You know, I think this is kind of a hangover from the industrial revolution. And again, you know, kind of at odds with where we’re at in 2023 with this flexion point in history where we are looking for these deeper meanings from work. We’re not just, it’s not just about putting our nose to the grindstone and working vigorously until the bell rings at 5pm. You know, that this is well and truly antiquated. And yet so many of us still suffer under this. 

So this is the very first episode, the meanings that we bring to work, the meaning makings that we bring to and derive from work and us as humans being meaning makers, you know, telling stories, not just to other people, of course, but most importantly to ourselves around what it is that we’re doing. I hope you found this interesting. I would love to hear from you. Please don’t let this be like me shouting into the abyss. Please send me a message. Find me on Instagram, Brooke McCarthy, you know. Let me know what your thoughts are. Let me know if you have any questions or comments or if you vehemently disagree with me. Great. Let’s thrash it out. 

This podcast was produced by Morgan Sebastian Brown of Brown Tree Productions, and the original music was produced by Sean Windsor.

Brook McCarthy Business Coach

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