Finding Meaning Through Work

While backpacking through Europe this past fall, one thing that really stood out (besides the delightful meals and fine wines of course) was this whole idea of greatness.  As a first time visitor I spent quite a while navigating through museums and monuments and was amazed at the grandiosity of not only the culture but of the individuals involved in creating it.  From Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, whose work in the late 1880’s was so unique, that to this day, it appears to be ahead of its time to Anne Frank, whose museum in the Netherlands horrified me but also made me feel admiration, because at the end of it all she accomplished what she set out for from the beginning of her persecution- for her story to be heard.

Later, while reflecting, I thought about what it takes to be great, to be all that you can be.  Two theorists, in particular, came to mind: Viktor Frankl and Abraham Maslow.  Frankl, founded Logotherapy, a branch of psychotherapy focused on meaning as the main driving force of humans.  Maslow alternatively, indicated that people are motivated by needs and that one must fulfill one need in order to move on to the next.  These needs, as per Maslow are: physiological needs, security needs, love needs, esteem needs and finally the need for self actualization.

As privileged citizens of the western world most of us are fortunate enough to have our basic needs fulfilled.  Like many around me I have food, shelter, loving relationships and have accomplished something in one way or another.  So if Maslow’s theory proves to be true, most, like myself, are only seeking one thing.  And that thing is self actualization.

Self actualization can be defined as one’s need to fulfill his or her maximum potential, or to be great.  One’s maximum potential is of course subjective and varies from person to person.  Yet, taking Frankl’s theory into account, since our main motivation for living is finding meaning in life, then once one has found such meaning, one will live their life to the fullest, i.e be self actualized.  As per Frankl, one way in which individuals can find meaning in life is by creating a work or doing a deed.  He does not mean work in the conventional sense that is routine for most of us, but work as in the kind that allows you to leave your mark behind.   This work may or may not be your job, but I believe that it is possible for it to be.  Frankl insisted that everybody has his or her own specific vocation in life and everybody must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment.   This specific vocation can be found anywhere and today, with the surplus of new job titles and unconventional specializations, it is more possible than ever to find it at work.

You see, everybody deserves and everybody SHOULD live up to their full potential.  Whether you are a social worker who is genuinely driven by helping others, a business person whose innovations contribute to the betterment of the community or someone in the fashion industry whose creative eye inspires generations- your work can have meaning.  Furthermore, this meaning is not just limited to the work desk; it can transcend above and beyond to every aspect of your life.

Maslow said: “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself”.

So I challenge you this, find out what it is you want to do, and do it.

Giovanna Acosta

Giovanna lives in New York City. She has an M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Her academic and work experiences coupled with her love for the written word, has led her to start a blog about her favorite topic: work! You can read about her insights as a young professional at Girl At Work.