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Despite the centrality of “work” to our society, I have never pondered the question of why people work. As a child, hearing adults talk about working sounded so boring that I’m not sure I could have possibly grasped the idea of work being fulfilling, meaningful, or enjoyable. So, like many others, I always assumed that everyone’s primary motivation for working was that they needed to make money. 

Since then, I have been relieved to find out that working does not have to be as daunting as I once thought. As a student, my primary “work” pertains to my classes. Like everyone, there are some subjects that I enjoy learning about greatly and others that I would rather go without. Reflecting on the classes I have taken so far, I am surprised to say that the classes that have been the most rewarding are not necessarily the classes that I have enjoyed the most. For example, I have never been much of a math person, but, as an Economics major, I had to take multivariable calculus. I was terrified going into the class and performed quite poorly on the first exam. However, that first exam inspired me to work very hard, find a tutor, attend office hours regularly, and rethink my approach to studying for the course. Though none of this work was fun, it paid off in the end. I actually vividly remember the moment my final course grade for that class was posted; I was out shopping with my family, and when I saw my grade on DukeHub, my dad and I were so excited that we started celebrating in the middle of the store. We both knew how much I had struggled to get a high mark in the class and that made it much more meaningful than even better grades that I had received in “easier” classes. 

My work with my DukeEngage partner, WeVote, has felt similarly significant, although for different reasons. None of the work is particularly challenging; for example, one of my primary tasks is searching through Google and Twitter to find organizations that have endorsed political candidates. Going into the summer, I was worried about my work feeling menial for this very reason. In Dan Ariely’s TedTalk, “What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work?”, he describes a study in which individuals were asked to complete a task on paper. Upon completion, their work was either shredded, ignored, or acknowledged. The individuals whose work was acknowledged were more inclined to continue working longer, on average, than those whose work was shredded or ignored. Luckily, my coworkers at WeVote have consistently not only acknowledged, but also validated and shown appreciation for my work. I am often invited into discussions with other departments to learn new skills or asked for my opinion on an important decision. These small gestures make me, like the individuals in the study that Ariely speaks about, excited to work because I feel like I truly have something to contribute to the team, even though my job could be done by millions of other people. 

Clearly, my classes and my work with WeVote feel meaningful for very different reasons, though neither feels particularly more meaningful than the other. For me, this goes to show that people can find meaning in their work for a variety of different reasons.