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Why We Don’t Need to Find “Work That Matters”

This is the second installment of a four part series about two things that shouldn’t go together but so often do, fear + work. For the first post, click here.

“I want to do work that matters.”

It wasn’t long ago that I was saying this phrase. And, honestly, if I find myself delivering Chinese food again I may end up saying it again. But I must refrain.

This phrase has especially emerged with the most recent generation of the workforce. It is all around us. I just Googled “work that matters” and found dozens of books, T-shirts and coffee mugs printed with that phrase on the front. So, if you want to pursue work that matters, you mustn’t look far.

My great grandfather saved a sum of money in a college fund so I wouldn’t have to break my back doing manual labor. Apparently several other grandparents had the same idea because most all of my peers also attended college. And since industry has helped us progress us beyond a standard of manual labor, now the objective has shifted to “finding work that matters.”

Unfortunately, this is like us chasing our tails. Because we’ll never quite get it, and because we already have it, anyway.

Blind

Back in 2008 when newspapers were really struggling to keep their place in the crowded information age, I landed a job as sports editor for a weekly paper in Sullivan, Illinois. This was special because this small town of 4,000 was smack dab in the crevice between two neighboring papers’ coverage areas, and was overlooked in local sports roundups. Townspeople truly relied on us to tell them what was happening.

When I took over the position I saw how wooden the stories were. Just “Johnny Smith scored 22 points, including the game winner.” So the editor-in-chief and I started brainstorming. There was a local swim team that was always taking home state medals. The high school’s 1990-91 girls basketball team was being inducted into the state hall of fame for its undefeated season, and the local YMCA offered exercise programs the community wasn’t aware of.

And most fun of all, I got a press pass to Wrigley Field, the same press box where Harry Caray bellowed “Cubs win! Cubs win!”

After a short while it started to work. People were excited about our coverage and our impact on the community. We got a shy and quiet high school basketball player on board as a freelance photographer and put a feather in his cap. My editor also told me my feature article writing was phenomenal and the coach of the swim team said I was the best sports editor the paper ever had.

And this all happened in a half year.

Yet, when I came home from work each day I told my girlfriend and parents the same thing: I want to do work that matters. I was somehow blind to the difference I was making. Sometimes we think if our job doesn’t have something to do with the homeless, saving babies from fires or organic gardens then God is just yelling, “Stop wasting time, sonny!” That’s why I left the editor job after eight months and I did just that, going on my own as a freelance writer and vowing to write only Christian faith-related articles, which, I felt, was “work that matters.”

Well, after three unsuccessful months I got a few articles published and maybe amused a few people’s hearts, but I didn’t move the needle. So I gave up. And since then I’ve realized it’s probably because I had it wrong: all work matters. You just have to find out why, and that’s your new point of entry.

Whatever You Do

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Col. 3:23)

Nowhere in the bible does it ever say to pursue work that matters. In fact, in the above passage it clearly states “whatever you do.” It doesn’t seem God is as concerned as we are about it.

In my current job I craft bank letters to customers. The ones that are only opened to see whether they include a check, and then are promptly thrown away. This should miss the “work that matters” target by an even wider shot than the editor job.

Having learned from my past mistake I stuck it out through nagging thoughts. “Oh, it’s so corporate!” “Oh, no one reads these letters, what am I doing?” “Oh great, there goes my soul!” I instead set my focus on the relationship with my peers, something I always valued, but I finally realized that friendship and community could not exist if a good working relationship wasn’t first established. So I took it up a notch in my personal performance and collaboration, and I broke through personal inhibitions to set up extra curricular activities to build those bonds that are so important. And after four years on the job I can say for the first time I’m not worried about finding work that matters.


Do you do work that matters? If not, what’s holding you back? Please share some of your experiences in the comments.

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  • Meghan Golden

    Loved this one so much-mainly because it’s something I can relate to and have struggled with. I’m now a therapist and do see it as my ministry, but I remember working as waitress off and on for years and learning things I couldn’t have learned in a classroom. I didn’t always appreciate that work and would minimize the ability to learn from talking with people, learning self discipline and to work really hard, and talking to people from all types of different backgrounds. I really appreciated you bringing up the verse about doing all things for Christ-I thought of it today actually working on a complex Excel spreadsheet! I dropped Facebook for a few reasons but am still sharing posts with my husband-plan to share with a friend I met at a retreat last weekend too at my church. Thanks again Matt! Keep writing! :)

    • http://www.matthewrennels.com Matthew Rennels

      Wow, you’re a therapist now? That’s awesome. I’ve sometimes thought about doing something like that, but then thought of the schooling and quickly changed my mind. I also believe the people we are around is so crucial, because some of those jobs I had that seemed like weren’t God’s will for me, or whatever, were the people that most needed God. I work in an environment that is much more sanitary and fast paced, too fast paced to talk about real life issues, whereas in the food industry, for example, we really got to learn each others’ hearts. There is something enormous to be said for that. Thanks again for your involvement, I truly appreciate it, and so thankful that your husband is engaging, too (I am about to respond to one of his comments :) )

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