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The Millennial’s Guide to Finding Meaningful Work and Making Money


The latest post in our Millennial Perspectives series comes to us from Debashish Das, author of the super-popular MP post you may remember, 7 Habits of Awesome Millennials:  A Guide to Understanding Gen Y.

Admit it. You don’t want to spend your best years caged in your office. Every day you wish you didn’t have to sit through the soul-sucking meetings. Every Sunday evening is spent dreading the monotony of the coming week.

You also want your work to make a positive impact on the world. You will settle for a smaller paycheck if it means you can live life on your own terms. You desire the freedom and the financial independence to take a vacation whenever and wherever you want.

You want to live “the dream,” but the only thing you do is dream about it. I have tried to escape from cubicle nation and have learned a little bit about how to start living with freedom, passion and meaning.

There’s More to Life Than Money

Last year I came to the realization that I didn’t need any more money than I was already earning. No, I couldn’t buy a Lamborghini. But I could afford most of the things I wanted to do. Like road trips on my motorcycle, scuba diving holidays, and the occasional party with my friends. What was missing was the freedom (time) to do it.

In the quest to become the master of my own time I decided to eliminate the most obvious obstacle in my way – my job. I was itching to say, “Screw you guys; I am going home”. But I am not impulsive by nature and a little bit of introspection helped me avoid going down that route.

I realized that quitting my job would leave me without any source of income and prevent me from doing things I would like to do after quitting (motorcycle maintenance isn’t exactly cheap). I shifted my priority to find other sources of income. But I knew I couldn’t just do it for the money. It also had to be true to my values of freedom and enjoyment.

In Pursuit of Passion

Frustrated in my dead end corporate job and thirsting for freedom, I was searching for ways to make money when I came across the idea that I could make money by doing work I loved. It was like sweet music to my ears.

Pumped up by the possibility of turning enjoyable work into a source of income, I set out on the journey to discover my passions.

I found out the hard way that not all passions are equal when it comes to making money. Some are better at becoming sources of income because they fulfill the needs of other people. For example, I was passionate about playing video games. But hardly anyone would say, “I want to pay you to play games all day long because you are passionate about it”. But there is value in making video games because people like me would pay for it.

In every field I was interested in I found the common denominator for being paid for work lay in creating value for other people. This lead me to the concept of meaningful work. I was convinced that making people’s lives better was the only way forward. I realigned my focus to pursue meaningful work, rather than just passion.

Why There is No Meaning in Work Without Money

I’m sure you are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:


Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Money and meaningful work fit almost perfectly into this framework.

Money fulfills the needs from the bottom two levels of the pyramid. We exchange money to take care of our physical needs:  food, house, electricity, internet, even your smartphone. Not being able to fulfill these needs shifts our priority to the bottom of the pyramid, i.e., making money.

Doing meaningful work fulfills the needs of the upper levels. Feeling like we are part of a community, gaining the respect of peers, and creating something of value with our work. These things speak to us on a deeper level and make us feel as if we are making a positive dent in the world.

Fulfilling your needs will always start from the bottom up, which is why money always comes first, even if making money is far down in your list of priorities.

You can do work that you are passionate about and also find meaning in doing it. But when you force yourself to make money by doing passionate and meaningful work, the focus shifts to money. And money, like all other physical needs, makes us shortsighted. If you are hungry, all you can think about is food. If you are tired, your body begs for rest. And if you are unable to make money by doing work you find meaningful and enjoyable, the work loses its meaning and joy.

An Unconventional Way to Find Meaningful Work and Make Money at the Same Time

Research shows that meaningful work is essential to being happy. This would be hollow advice to someone who struggles to pay his bills. And most people would suggest that you pick one or the other. The common belief is that if you find meaning in your work then you shouldn’t ask for money.

The fact is, meaningful work usually does come with a smaller paycheck. Which is why I would like you to defy this status quo and take on two jobs at the same time. One job which lets you do meaningful work. And the other job helps you to make money.

This might be the hard way to do it but, many side hustlers are already living this way. They either let their main gig be a source of income and hustle on the side to do meaningful work (like I do). Or, they earn from their side hustles and dedicate the rest of their time to passion projects. I want you to believe in your ability to do this too.

Why Millennials Are a Perfect Fit for this Approach

Taking on two jobs at the same time, each of which fulfills a different set of needs, seems to suit millennials to a T. Here’s why:

I don’t care that we are criticized and labeled as Generation Me. I am a millennial and money is not my main motivation for doing anything. I choose meaningful work over money. If my job is not meeting both my needs, I will go out there and find work that does. Until then I choose to have two jobs.

If you want work to be meaningful and enjoyable, you can try what I’ve started doing recently. Make your day job your source of income and take up a project you are passionate about, and do it just for the joy of it. Free your passion from the burden of making money.

Take up a side gig that feels meaningful, and do it because you want to leave a dent in the world. Unshackle it from the chains of paying your bills. Keep doing this and you will find your source of meaning and source of income will start to merge. You will soon be able to quit your only-for-the-money job and be free to live on your own terms.

As Seth Godin wrote:

Do your art. But don’t wreck your art if it doesn’t lend itself to paying your bills. That would be a tragedy.

Do you agree with Debashish? Or not? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Debashish Das About the author: Debashish Das is a freelance content writer and strategist. He also writes on his blog, http://quitbefree.com/, to inspire readers to quit their dead end corporate job and live a life filled with passion and freedom. Follow him at https://plus.google.com/+DebashishDas9

What do you think?

2 comments… add one

  • Outstanding post, Debashish. Your position here is a great reflection of a more mature and realistic evolution of the escape-the-9-to-5, 4-hour-work-week mentality.

    Absolutely, meaningful work is crucial for happiness, at least mine. I think it is also important to note that meaningful work is extremely important for contribution and productivity. Society, as well as the individual, have a mutual interest in ensuring alignment between strengths, purpose and work, for each of us, regardless of generation.

    • Debashish Debashish says:

      Thanks a lot, Aaron. It means a great deal coming from you.

      It’s true that meaningful work contributes directly to an individual’s happiness, and benefits the society. However, our social conditioning never included any discussions on meaningful work. Which has resulted in equating success to materialistic richness. If we don’t consciously realign our strengths, purpose, and work we might not find mental and spiritual fulfillment. That’s why it has to be constantly reiterated and practiced. Regardless of generation.