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Humanities & Sciences Conference: Connecting Meaning and Opportunity

What is Meaningful Work?

Mar 1 2016

Humanities & Sciences Conference: Connecting Meaning and Opportunity

by Victoria Pu

What does it mean to do “meaningful work”? How does one go about pursuing his or her “why”? In the face of such profoundly difficult questions that seem to challenge us to discover the very meaning of life, for one to feel vaguely overwhelmed would be a severe understatement. 

Yet Adam Smiley Poswolsky, bestselling author of The Quarter Life Breakthrough, addressed just these issues and concerns in his keynote presentation at the Humanities & Sciences conference. In grounding these abstract concepts of “meaning” and “purpose,” Poswolsky urged us to take life one experience at a time: “Your purpose doesn’t fall out of the sky…You have to find your purpose—try things. Like oh, I think my purpose is helping people, well try that…I think that’s how you learn best, and if it doesn’t [become your purpose], by trying, you get closer and closer, you get better and better.”

This idea that finding one’s purpose is an ever-changing process, resonated with students like Holly Dayton ’17, a history major and theater minor, as she said, “What I enjoyed the most was the discussion of how it’s okay to not find your purpose at first—to not enjoy the first thing you do, or necessarily the second thing you do. The freedom to fail is always an important message to hear, especially as Stanford students.” 

Many students, like recent graduate Kyle Abraham ‘15, came to the event looking to expand their horizons, to try things and discover meaning. For them, the conference served as a checkpoint in reassessing the trajectory of their journeys to meaningful work. In Abraham’s words, “Meaningful work is…work[ing] for something that’s in alignment with our values and our mission, so this workshop was a great opportunity to revisit what are the things I care about and kind of act on those…This [event] helped make some of those implicit things explicit.” When asked what he’d take away from the event, he responded, “I think it affirmed a lot. I’ve done a lot of these different things from BEAM…about values and other things, and each time I come back, they’re a little more solidified, so it’s about confirming things...It’s a great opportunity to sort of reflect on all of your experiences, to really evaluate is this something you want to be doing in the long run, is it time for a change.”

For those students looking to explore new fields or areas of work, the career fair portion of the event was also a prime time to forge connections that help bridge meaningful work. With a smattering of lightning round presentations from Internet moguls like Google, to Zappos and wikiHow—to securities company Bitglass or high-tech start-ups—the crux of the meet-and-greet sessions highlighted the importance of connecting with both peers and employers. Diana Liang with KQED fondly described her conversations with many H&S students, “I met with so many great people here that are so passionate about what KQED does, so that’s really nice to me—in particular because of the liberal arts, because that’s sort of the niche for KQED—looking for people who are writers, who like to do media work.”

Beyond the realm of media and broadcast, High Tech Connect—a marketing-communications consulting agency—has launched ConNEXT, to empower millennials in their search for meaningful work. Representative Katie Williams admitted that meaningful work can be elusive. “Finding your ‘why’ is an ever-evolving process…and that’s just part of being a person,” she explained. As a former philosophy major herself, Williams described humanities and sciences as “so much more of a bigger perspective…[it’s a] much more broad, richer understanding of the world.” And despite the challenges of finding meaningful work, Williams ended on an encouraging note, as she would urge students,  “Discover your “why” and even if it’s not what you think is good, what your parents think is good, what your friends think is what you should be doing—I’d say just go for it. And you know, dream as big as you can.”