Man’s Search for Meaning

Telling people to do what they love is so last year. Now that we’ve successfully convinced a generation of kids to become self-entitled brats, it’s time for a new commencement speech.

This year’s schpeal is to tell kids to pursue meaningful careers. Careers that give them a sense of purpose. No epiphany yet? That’s because it’s bullshit.

These days, a career with purpose has loosely come to describe any job that serves to benefit healthcare, poor people, or mother earth.

The purpose of my last job was to make money for the company shareholders. Many of them have children to feed. How come that didn’t qualify as meaningful?

Meaning is an artificial carrot that people invent when their lives have become insufferably boring. Usually these people have desk jobs. Desk jobs lead to back problems and existential crises.

You know who never suffers from existential crises? Construction workers. Have you ever heard a day laborer complain that his life lacks meaning?

We shun blue-collar jobs and want to replace manual labor with robots, but that would be terrible. Will a car mechanic be happier if we take him indoors and stuff him into a cubicle?

We really ought to be building robots to replace the cubicle monkeys. Then send all those white-collar workers out into the field.

Several years ago, I took a bicycle frame to an auto body shop in Sunnyvale to have it painted for a cyclocross bike project. It was a high-end shop, specializing in fixing Porsches and Jags and whatever else Los Altos residents might bang up.

I knew the guy who worked there. He was a Mexican immigrant who commuted from East San Jose. On any given day, the car he was repairing would be worth more than his annual salary.

I asked him what it was like to spend his days repairing vanity scratches on cars he could never afford. Gotta be demoralizing, right? (I’m not always tactful)

I love making things look shiny and new, he said. I’m proud of my work.

So that’s it. Do stuff that you can be proud of. It doesn’t have to have a greater purpose, but it can. It does mean doing something hard. But it’s easier than wandering the earth in search of meaning.


Yes, I am aware that I stole the title from Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. For those of you who came here in search of a review to rip off for your English term paper, here are the Cliffs notes:

Frankl was an inmate at Auschwitz during WWII. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Choose to focus on hope, or choose to focus on pain. That will dictate how much you suffer.

You’re welcome.

Carl McCoy: Dear Grads, Don’t ‘Do What You Love’ –wsj.com

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