Commentary – How to find “Meaning” in your work and why some never do

I was at the gym a few nights ago and had a chance encounter with a young man contemplating a career change. 

The young man shared that he was currently working in construction as a tradesman.  He told me that he was thinking of switching to a career in law enforcement.  I asked what had caused him to come to this decision.  He shared that he felt unfulfilled and that he thought law enforcement would allow him to do something “meaningful” with his life. 

Meaningful!??  His comment gave me pause as I contemplated my own career in construction.


As you might know, I also began my career in the trades.  I was hanging sheetrock and framing walls well before I graduated High School. I even spent a few years working as an apprentice under a carpenter during college.  Following receipt of my Bachelors of Architecture I spent almost 20 years on the boards before becoming a Business consultant.

Thinking through my history and considering where I am Today, I would not say my career ever lacked “meaning”.

My Appeal

In light of this young man’s comments, I could not help myself.  I tried to impress upon him that he could carve out a “meaningful” career in construction, if he applied himself.

I shared a little about my career and ran through a few of my most significant projects, suggesting that finding “meaning” in your work was a matter of patience and positioning.

I don’t think my intervention changed his mind.  He seemed quite resolute in becoming a police officer and I don’t think he was very impressed with my argument.

However, this conversation prompted me to consider my own career more fully. 

Looking back

During my time in the trades, I felt pride from performing clean professional work and I fondly remember the host of characters I met.  While renovating senior housing units in South Jersey, I took away life lessons from everyone including; the disgruntled laborer who seemed eternally dissatisfied with everything that was put before him, the long-in-the-tooth Journeyman obsessed with the proper way to store extension cords, and the second generation business owner focused on winning the next deal.

My early years as an Architect were spent detailing steel framing connections on transportation projects.  These years were focused on how to communicate complex concepts in graphic format.  I was lucky to have had the patience and expertise of a warm welcoming group of experienced professionals who allowed me to be imperfect within their perfect guidance. 

Later while tackling renovation projects on higher education campuses, I learned construction best practices from masters of the craft.  They taught me the value of history and culture while showing me the right and wrong way to design a building.

While delivering one of my largest campus design projects, I honed my space planning skills under the guidance of a firm filled with some of the greatest talents I have ever known.  That experience was pivotal as it was the first time I began to feel truly competent as an Architect.

In pushing out dozens of fast-casual retail restaurants, I began to understand the commercial real estate market.  I remember leading teams of Architects and Engineers to assess potential build sites, many of which I oversaw through construction.

As senior architect working on airports in the New York/New Jersey area, I had the distinct privilege of working side by side with one of the World’s foremost Aviation Architects.  We renovated terminals, modernized baggage systems, added Federal Inspection facilities, and built pilot lounges at all three of the area’s major airports.  The work we did supports millions of passengers per day.

And over the last 12 years as a business consultant, I’ve been at the forefront of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of construction projects around the world.  During this time, I take pride in building project teams from the World’s top design and construction talents.  These teams have built; food processing plants, consumer product plants, pharmaceutical plants, chemical plants, semi-conductor fabrication facilities, major logistics hubs, and corporate offices.  The projects I have led have affect all of our lives in one way or another.

Love Construction

I don’t really know what this young man’s experience has been, but I know mine, and finding “meaning” in my work has been easy.  I love the construction industry and think it is a great place for people to build a career. 

I know the industry is in need of talent.  One of the challenges that persists is a lack of skilled labor.  I would encourage anyone seeking a meaningful career to consider construction. 

The best thing about construction is that you can be part of this great industry regardless of what you like to do.  We need people with skills in; trade work, design, project management, accounting, management, negotiations, and planning.  The variety of required skills are endless. 


As I close this article, I can’t help but ask myself.  Is the prospect of finding “meaning” in one’s work simply a matter of mindset?

If this young man cannot find meaning in his work now, will he ever find meaning in his work regardless of what he does?

Some people seek “meaning” their whole lives.  They seem eternally dissatisfied.  Always looking for the next opportunity.  Others seem content performing tasks that seem mundane and repetitive.  Perhaps those that seem content are simply not vocalizing their discontent.

What do you think?  Is the prospect of finding “meaning” in your work tied to being in a specific line of work?  Or do you think anyone with the right mindset can find “meaning” regardless of the job?  Tell me your stories.

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