• Hyung

On Meaning & Meandering. Why do you work?

Truth, love, meaning: some things have such a sacred aura around it that it seems, even if everything were to change, these things would not. Perhaps the lightest of these is 'meaning', and to narrow it down, I write this specifically relating to meaning in our work.

The core of what makes work meaningful, i.e. to make a net positive dent in the world, has not changed. However, of late, the way this meaning manifests itself in my life has transitioned. I've been trying to unpack it.

Having majored in Political Science and Finance, I used to toggle between classes which often felt contradictory. After learning about the flaws of capitalism in one class, I’d walk across the lawn and think about ROI. It was this duality that made me think from a lens of “understanding the role of businesses amidst today's socioeconomic issues.”

I ended up starting my career in a primarily operational role in a tech company. In other words, it was close to nothing to do with the social good I thought I was placed on Earth to do. Every subsequent move from there I'd be religious about evaluating its potential for driving societal impact.

Maybe it paid off, maybe I was lucky. Still, I'm proud to say that role by role, I did inch closer to my goal. An overseas stint doing marketing in an emerging market opened up the chance to do Public Sector business development work across the region, where I could access government institutions and learn about their priorities and operations.

I then found myself leading something called a ‘country plan’, which meant I got to drive a culmination of programs that contribute towards building the societal ecosystem in which the technology is used (via policy advocacy, inclusive skills building and sustainability initiatives). By definition, it was the perfect nexus for my aspirations.

Yet, increasingly, I became detached from the content of the work which I had strived so hard to make a part of my life's narrative. Instead, I found cravings for things like clarity and measurability of impact and a chance to prove (mostly to myself) that I could execute and reap, not just strategize and sow.

I'm now starting a new chapter where it's less about the social good but more about business impact. I joke with friends in less 'mercenary' career trajectories as to whether this is what it is to sell-out to capitalism. For now, I make sense of this change with three main thoughts.

First, the change represents an accumulation of my experiences thus far. I've seen how there can be zero impact for all its busy-ness in the most noble of industries. I've witnessed how the strength of character and seasoned prowess of a sales leader can change lives.

Second, it's about my own model of balance. Envisioning ‘doing great things’ as a twenty-year-old, I didn’t even think to factor in the time and resources it takes to start and love one’s family. Instead of idolizing the macro impact in our youth and subsequently losing ourselves in the micro milestones as life stages roll around, I want to be committed to creating my own brand of balance.

Lastly, it's about expertise. Close friends still lovingly laugh at the fact that I, a dinosaur, work at in tech. Instead of shying away in the name of social impact, this is the chapter in which I build a stronger foundation in tech and in business for wherever I may end up.

So 'meaningful work' has gone from working in a do-good industry or job, to building character and expertise relevant to what the world needs... all while remembering to attribute meaning to the holy work we do without ever getting paid, i.e. at home. In ending this note, I can't help but to wonder where you derive the meaning of your work from and whether it, too, is meandering.

First posted on Instagram in June 2021