You’ve probably heard these stories before. There’s the proud janitor at NASA who tells President Kennedy that he isn’t just sweeping up; he is helping put a man on the moon. And the gung-ho stonemason who tells architect Christopher Wren that he isn’t just hammering rock; he is building a cathedral to God’s glory. The stories are popular, even though they probably never happened. And they get told and retold to support the power of purpose. It’s the subtext that bothers me.
Invariably, the moral of these stories is that employers (a label that literally defines the rest of us as something to be used) need to provide employees with a purpose. This suggests that many jobs are, in and of themselves, meaningless. It also implies that people don’t care about the work they do — that they are wastrels.
I don’t know if the relationship between meaningless work and