What does Work mean to me?

Image taken from Unsplash

What comes to your mind when you see the term, “work”? Do you picture a man plodding away at the open fields under the hot scorching sun? Or perhaps, do you visualise yourself typing away on a laptop and attending an endless stream of (zoom?) meetings with your co-workers?

Personally, I define work as the activity that I devote the majority of my time and energy to. It is my main occupation and it provides me with my main source of income. Because of the huge amount of energy that I invest in my work, my work is also one of my key pillars of identity. More often than not, “I work as a Software engineer” is what I use to introduce myself to strangers.

Regardless of what occupation you are in, I believe that we can all agree that work takes up a substantial amount of our waking hours. Most of us, especially if we hold “regular office jobs” with “fixed working hours”, spend close to 9 hours at work everyday. In fact, according to statistics found online, the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. This is roughly equivalent to 1/3 of our lifetime!

Because work consumes so much of our time, shouldn’t we frequently reflect and be clear of the reasons why we work? In this article, I would like to share what “work” means to me and why I work. Hopefully, I can inspire you to reflect about your own work and be more intentional about why you spend your time at work.

Financial Freedom

Photo of a sculpture taken by the author at the Botanics Garden, Singapore.

At the most basic level, I work so that I can be financially independent and not be reliant on anyone for my daily expenses and needs. Through my life, I have learned that the best strategy in doing anything is to equip yourself with the right skills so that you can survive alone, with or without friends and family. Depending on another person often results in a skewed relationship where there is an imbalance of power which often leaves one person at the mercy of another.

The importance of being financially independently had been drilled in me by my mother since I was a little girl. I have heard countless stories of how some women who have given up their career for marriage, in order to fully devote themselves to attend to their family’s needs, later find themselves becoming “trapped” in their marriage when they want to leave. They become afraid to leave even when they no longer find satisfaction in the relationship because, after years of being a homemaker, they have gotten completely reliant on their spouse for financial support. To them, the fear of not being able to financially support themselves independently is bigger than the fear of continuing in an unhappy marriage.

All these unfortunate stories have reinforced my belief that I need to equip myself with skills so that I can be qualified to work in a job that pays me well enough to lead the kind of lifestyle that I aspire to have, without having to be at the mercy of anyone else.

Improve myself

I value work because working enables me to improve myself and be a better version of who I was yesterday.

I see entering the workforce as the next natural progression of graduation from school. In school, together with my classmates, I passively absorb new knowledge from textbooks and from the lessons conducted by my teachers. In the workforce, I have an environment for me to actively put to practise, test and validate concepts that I have learned in school to the real world. The workplace is where I can truly contribute my expertise and help develop products that have a real world impact. This opportunity helps me to achieve a deeper understanding of technical work and become a more knowledgeable engineer.

Furthermore, being in the workforce means that I get to work with other individuals who are more senior and experienced than me. I can observe how they write code, do code reviews, write documentation and make certain design decisions. In the workplace, I have access to mentors who can provide valuable insights and feedback on how I can improve. All of these resources and opportunities at work can help me to become a more skilled and confident engineer.

Seek satisfaction

I perceive work as a platform for me to seek satisfaction.

Being able to leave a direct positive impact on others through my work brings me satisfaction. Currently, as a software engineer, I am fortunate to be in a position where I can build tools or products that can directly help to improve how other people do things. Unlike other things, a software product has the potential to scale greatly and reach out to a wide range of audiences from all over the world. It is motivating for me to be able to see how much empowerment I can have in making a positive difference to the experience of so many users through my work.

Additionally, work can help to stimulate my brain and keep me mentally active. I enjoy working on challenging tasks that requires me to utilise my intellect and creative juices. I feel incredibly rewarded after I succeed in a challenge that I have spent lots of efforts in. On this note though, sometimes my work can get stressful and I feel overwhelmed by it. For example in cases when the product breaks or when I have little idea on how I am going to implement something. However, at the end of most weeks, I get to pat myself on the shoulders and bask in the satisfaction that I have challenged myself at work and grown through the process.

Pursue hobbies that don’t bring me money

Last but not the least, work is a way for me to be able to afford my passion pursuits that don’t earn me money. For example, it is my dream to travel to different countries in the world and understand different cultures and way of life. The sole act of travelling will not bring me money and I cannot pursue it without first having a solid plan to fund my travel costs such as on transportation, food, accommodations and sites entrance fees. Unless I am a “travel vlogger” or an endorsed TV host for travelling where I get paid by travelling, this pursuit is likely to require me to fork out a certain sum of money. The same goes for many other hobbies that I have. Therefore, I perceive my full time work as a way to provide me with a steady stream of income so that I can pursue all my side passions without worrying about my finances.

Unsplash image

In conclusion

As someone who has just graduated from university three months ago, I am still finding my path and transitioning from my identify of being a student to a full time working adult. The road ahead seems long and full of uncertainty. Perhaps I will not stay as a Software engineer for my entire career? Perhaps I will? Perhaps I might consider starting my own business in a completely different field? Perhaps I might venture into the field of social entrepreneurship? Perhaps I might decide to work in a field that is closely aligned to my hobbies such as travelling and running? There are many possibilities and for now, I will not rule out any. However, if there is one thing I am certain of, it would be that I want to work for as long as I can. Many people aspire to retire by XXX age, but not me. I truly believe in the value that work can bring to my life and I would like to continue to contribute to society for as long as I can.

Of course, work is not always all sunshine and rainbows. There are days when the going gets tough and I doubt my decision to work as a software engineer. At times, I feel overwhelmed by all my tasks and question myself about why I do the work that I do. That’s when I remind myself of the reasons why I work and regain my motivation.

I believe we all have different reasons for why we work. Some of us work to support our children or parents. Some of us work to pay off our debt. Some of us choose to work at home as a caregiver or homemaker to take care of our family members because we love them. Regardless of whether your definition of work or reason for working is the same as mine, I would like to end this article by asking you to think about what’s the value of work in your life? Perhaps you too, can write a short journal entry about it. Writing down the reasons for why you work and what work means to you, can help you be clearer of your life direction and assess whether you are in a place where you want to be in.

A photo of a cactus flower taken by the author at Beijing Botanical Garden Exhibition Greenhouse in 2019

Thanks for reading!

Extra: If you are interested in the topic of work, there is an interesting book on bullshit jobs. As of now, i am in the middle of reading this book so I cannot provide much insights on it. Click here for the link to the book.