⚠️ CONTENT WARNING: death, grief

To start things off on a sombre note, I’ve just returned from the funeral of my uncle; a tremendously hot affair (on the hottest UK day since records began) but one which was incredibly heartwarming and humbling - and one which provoked today’s post.

One of my uncle’s favourite phrases was: “Everything matters, but nothing matters terribly” (a quote which the internet seems confident to attribute to Kathleen Winsor, without noting where or when she said it). In other words, while we rightfully place meaning and importance onto the things that we do with our lives, none of it is so immediately critical to the survival of the human race that we should lose sleep or sacrifice happiness to achieve it.

This much was obvious as our funeral procession took a slow detour past the local rugby club where my uncle spent most of his life serving as a player, captain and club official, with members lining both sides of the street in a guard of honour to applaud his passing. It certainly got me thinking: if I were to die tomorrow, or even if I lived as long as he did, what sort of impact would I have left on the people around me? Let’s face it, nobody’s holding a guard of honour for an especially efficiently delivered agile project.

I said as much to a colleague recently, after they admitted having mixed feelings about their decision to leave their current role to take up a new, exciting opportunity which would also offer them more time to spend with their family: Once your working days are done, nobody’s going to look back and think “I wish I’d stuck at that project with my eighth company for just a few months longer”.

Find your meaning

I’m currently in the midst of reading Tom Morin’s Your Best Work, which is deeply rooted in this area (and you can expect to hear more when I start my weekly series of book reviews). It seeks to tackle some of the major problems with modern working culture and The Great Resignation, such as disengagement, disillusionment and unfulfillment, and flip them on their head by making us understand what we each individually find meaningful.

When we find meaning and purpose in our work, we’re intrinsically motivated to succeed; some might even tell you that “work doesn’t feel like work” when its very nature sustains you. For some, this might mean working for a product which changes the world, or makes people’s lives easier. For others, it may simply mean a job which supports your ability to be a parent or a caregiver more easily. And while we can’t all change the world (much as we might like to), the era of having to settle for “it pays the bills” is long gone.

What matters most is that you put yourself, your family and friends foremost. Jobs will come and go. Don’t sweat on things that you can’t change; if you’ve made your best effort to make a role (or company) work for you, that’s all that you can ask of yourself. Be bold in your actions (whether that’s making change within an organisation, or by moving yourself out of it) and most of all, be memorable (although of course, there’s “good memorable” and “bad memorable”. Be the first one.)

…Nothing matters?

I’ve already threatened to turn this into a book blog, so I’m wary of also turning it into a film blog, but there’s a fantastic recent movie which (as well as being a hilarious, sometimes-crude, high-concept sci-fi comedy-drama) gets into these sort of philosophical conversations. Keeping it spoiler-light, Everything Everywhere All At Once sees existence threatened by a nihilistic superbeing who seeks to tear everything to pieces after realising that the infinity of the multiverse means that, essentially, nothing matters. (I promise, it’s very funny.)

When our protagonist seeks to challenge this entity in their real-world form, she does so by turning the entity’s words back on them. Whatever your troubles, however much something might seem to be tearing you apart in the moment… nothing matters. And I’ll be raising a toast to uncle David tonight for just this reason.

Key takeaways 📝

  • What seems to “matter” to us is often not worth losing sleep over, on the grand scheme of things.
  • Finding meaningful work is one of the best ways to feel positive about what you do.
  • Jobs will come and go, but when your obituary is read, what will it say about you?