In this day and age of Adam Smith’s capitalist economy, it is often difficult to find meaning and satisfaction with one’s work. Ariely addresses this dissonance in his TED talk by discussing the importance of meaning when working.
Is motivation for labor equivalent to payment? We might have been conditioned to think so, that being paid to work is sufficient enough to motivate us. However, as anyone who has ever had a goal they were working towards torn down right in front of their eyes, they would know this is not the case. Motivation is a multifaceted experience. We all exist for a purpose, whatever it may be, and without one, life feels meaningless and there is no drive to do anything but exist. Like Ariely said, motivation isn’t just payment. It’s meaning, creation, challenge, ownership, identity, and pride, amongst other things. Money truly is not happiness.
You can’t tell me there’s anything more satisfying than struggling through a class problem set, going to office hours, and having the TA confirm that you had stumbled to the correct method and answer. Why is that not the same level of satisfaction as simply finding an answer somewhere and copying it down? Ultimately, it comes down to the challenge and your own pride. Yes, the only goal is to complete the assignment, but what you choose to get out of it is up to you. When you make a habit of finding meaning in menial tasks, it’s a lot less painful and actually rewarding to do work.
My DukeEngage work this summer brings me similar satisfaction as I get to see the tangible fruits of my labor while working alongside a community passionate about their mission. My projects never feel monotonous, and working in defined hours is a refreshing change of pace. I wouldn’t say schoolwork or this independent project would be more meaningful than the other as they are quite different. This feels like something my mother would say, but while schoolwork is tedious, it’s meaningful in the sense that there’s no point in starting to get a degree and never completing it. The independent project brings meaning to me by allowing me to apply my own skills in a practical setting. Don’t sell your babies, you worked hard for them.