As David Graeber put it,
I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless?
I don’t want anyone to take this as an attack on what they do for a living, so I’ll make this personal. Have I had jobs that were meaningless?
Sure. For the last decade, I’ve worked on and off in various white collar positions that I found unfulfilling, contrived, or pointless. But I needed the paycheck. And society told me I was succeeding as a person simply because I’d managed to snag a nine-to-five job with benefits, and earned positive performance reviews from whoever oversaw me one rung up on the corporate ladder. I’d done it! Unlike many of my peers who graduated into the Great Recession, I wasn’t beholden to the panicky hustle of underemployment in the gig economy. I wasn’t destitute or desperate. As long as I continued to do as I was told, this corporation would safely insulate me from poverty.
But aside from enabling me to pay my bills, did these various jobs serve a purpose? Did they address people’s immediate needs, make the world a better place, or enrich our culture? Did the work I did matter?