Money and Meaning

Looking back over the blog archives on my website, I noticed that this will be my 100th blog.  It has been a lot of fun and I love hearing the comments from everyone.  It feels good to be connected with so many who care so much about the issues we face every day.  I was looking for something significant to discuss in this “centennial blog” and I ran across Umair Haque’s Harvard Business Review blog that talks about the tradeoffs of money and meaning in our society today.  He deals with perhaps the most significant thing most people wrestle with everyday.  What could I be doing to make my life more meaningful and am I doing less than meaningful work just to make money?

The blog makes some very interesting points such as why should investment bankers make so much more money than teachers?  Why do people continue to waste their lives doing monotonous brain numbing jobs just to make money?  Is it really true that there is a tradeoff that involves only having meaningful work on jobs that don’t pay that much?  How much control does somebody have over the choice of meaning vs. money?  How does this change and what does it look like over the course of one’s life or career?

Those of us in the pharmaceutical industry are very fortunate in that we can balance meaning and money every day.  The work we do trying to improve healthcare and make life easier for the patients that use our drugs is incredibly important.  Our products make huge differences in people’s lives, whether that is seen in the HIV patient living a long life or in the millions of people who are cancer survivors.  At the same time the industry is a sophisticated network of extremely profitable enterprises.  Those that work in our industry are incredibly well compensated and treated with dignity in the workplace.

The dilemma that faces many is how to properly balance the money and the meaning aspect every day and with every decision.  If time is spent working on mundane presentations that will soon be forgotten and really have no value for the people who need our drugs, then there is no meaning.  If the job consists of balancing budgets and trying to force things through the review processes, then it is a meaningless job.  On the other hand if time is spent trying to understand patients and physicians and trying to determine how to make their lives easier, then there is meaning.  If pricing decisions are made with incredible care for the patient that relies on the industry, then there is meaning.  In so many ways it is a matter of perspective and how we view what we do every day.

Deep into the blog, Haque talks about attitude.  He talks about developing both professional skills and human capacities.  Some of the human capacities he talks about include the ability to not accept the status quo, having unwavering empathy, always thinking there is a better way and having the pride of a master artisan.  These are things that are often forgotten when we just try to keep our head above water reading emails, attending meetings and beating deadlines.

The choice is really up to the individual.  I will say that those who constantly seek meaning in what they do and strive to change things for the better usually end up much more happy and interestingly often become the leaders of organizations.  Those that accept the status quo, treat work as a job, never question things, keep their head down and fight for promotions and more money tend to be unhappy and often remain stuck in their careers.  Take some time and re-read the HBR blog and try to figure out the relationship between meaning and money in your career.  Strive for meaning, as this will make life so much more precious.

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