Choosing Meaningful Work

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and works as a financial adviser retired at 34. He is married, has three kids.  Robert and his wife then plan to return to school and become teachers, eventually living and working overseas.

There was nothing wrong with working as a financial advisor. I helped people make good decisions about their money, so that they could avoid future problems and achieve their goal of retirement or financial independence. Helping rich people get richer can be rewarding, especially because they pay well. Helping poor people get richer is even more satisfying. But I ultimately decided that there must be something that better aligns with my own values and preferences.

I learned a lot as a financial advisor. It also gave me an opportunity to manage my own financial affairs for my benefit. I was able to pay off a small mortgage in just seven years and, at the same time, save and invest enough money to be financially independent, given a relatively humble level of spending. I felt I progressed as far as suited me in my career, and I was looking for something more fulfilling. I just didn’t get as excited about going in to work each day as I used to.

When I was in university, my dream was to work overseas. I had already caught the travel bug, and I have lived overseas in France and Taiwan. It is an experience that I would like my children to have, so my original plan was to try and work in the Canadian foreign service. Unfortunately, though, that didn’t work out. After moving back to Calgary and working for a couple years, I took a real interest in public education. I read books about education theory and practice, I talked with teachers and I volunteered in my son’s school.

So when my wife suggested that, once we achieved financial independence, we could get our teaching certificates and work in international schools overseas, it made a lot of sense. Not only did it combine my dream with my interests, it is practical and it gave me something to look forward to and work toward. On top of that, I didn’t want to feel like the intervening years were spent just marking time, so we chose to get involved in the politics of public education locally. It has given us something we really care about to work on, it has given me opportunities to grow as a person, and we have met some really great people.

Is it necessary to do work that aligns with your values? No, the majority of people probably don’t have that luxury. But it’s certainly worth working toward. I doubt that the majority of people have a really clear idea of what work would be meaningful to them. It’s not something that students explore in school. It’s rarely a conversation that happens at the pub with friends. But look at your dreams, think about what gets you excited, and try to imagine how that could translate into a job that adds value to society. There’s a lot more to life than money.

Is your work meaningful? If so, in what way? If not, what are your dreams and passions?

2 thoughts on “Choosing Meaningful Work”

  1. I consider myself incredibly lucky that I knew what work excited me, even as a small child. I stuck to my guns despite a lot of eye-rolling from my family. In the end I turned it into a career. I’m currently teaching science to non-science majors in university. It’s not a stellar career and I don’t make much money but I figure I’m paid to play. I meet a lot of resistance (my students must have met my dad) but as some start to truly understand the concepts, WHAM, it’s still a buzz for me. And if I can help one person become a better consumer of science info in today’s society, I’ve made a difference.

  2. Working in non-profit, my wife loves her job and finds fulfillment. Because non-profits tend to have fewer staff her work is varied and challenging. The two main drawbacks are long hours and lower salary. Luckily I make a decent salary and neither one of us has expensive taste and both of us have similar financial goals.

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