Meaning-Focused Therapy

Meaning centered counseling Lecture No 8

The Meaning of Work

Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D. C.Psych
Tyndale University College, Toronto, Ontario


  • Work consumes most of one’s life.
  • We often define ourselves in terms of what we do.
  • We often derive our meaning, self-worth and life satisfaction from work.
  • The work place has become a home and a community.
  • Work means more than income.
  • Need to become conscious of our responsibility in the work setting.
  • Without a sense of meaning and purpose, we will be hitting a wall of fog.
  • It is difficult to be happy and productive workers without a sense of meaning and purpose.

Debunking the myths about the meaning of work

  • Meaning comes from “the person’s work as a contribution to society, and not to the actual occupation as such” (p.118)
  • The work itself does not create meaning; it only gives people the opportunity to do so.
  • What counts is not the work, but the manner in which one does the work, and being oneself to the work.
  • “The medical profession provides a framework through the doctor’s personal exercise of professional skill.” (p.119)
  • What we bring to the work is more important than the work itself.
  • What occupation we do is less important that the attitudes and motivations we bring to the work.

Sources of meaning at work

  • Meeting the higher human needs.
  • Bringing one’s personality and character to work (uniqueness).
  • Feeling good to be part of the mission of the organization (belonging & experiential value).
  • Making a useful contribution to the organization and society (significance & creative values).
  • Feeling good about the quality and the worth of one’s work (creative values).
  • Being responsible to the demands of the work situation (responsibility).
  • Fulfilling one’s life goals and missions (purpose).
  • Experiencing the state of “flow” (experiential value).
  • Validation from others.
  • Taking a stand for one’s convictions and beliefs (attitudinal values).

Hindrances to meaning of work

  • Wrong kind of occupation
  • Assembly line
  • Drudgery or sweatshop
  • Abuse and exploitation
  • Unfair treatment
  • Lack of recognition and appreciation
  • Being ignored or ostracized
  • Too much pressure
  • Too much crap and toxin
  • Inability to get into the state of “flow”
  • Lack of success

Helping people cope with failure

  • Perceived failure can be very demoralizing
  • Competitive pressures are increasing
  • Lack of results can mean bankruptcy or unemployment
  • Blaming and rationalization do not help
  • “Believe it and claim it” may be harmful
  • What can we learn from “The Secret” and the law of attraction
  • Recognize that failure is both necessary and beneficial
  • Learn to fail or fail to learn
  • Practice the PURE model

Overcoming external obstacles & achieving success

  • Understand the causes of failure
  • Remove all known hindrances
  • Repair the weakest link
  • Set clear goals and objectives for success
  • Develop the right plan of action
  • Execute the right strategies
  • Evaluate and adjust your actions
  • Create conditions for success
  • Create one’s own games
  • Get around obstacles

Overcoming internal obstacles & achieving success

  • We are often paralyzed by self-doubts and fears
  • Don’t be your own worst enemy!
  • Beware of self-fulfilling prophecies!
  • Understand and resolve your personal issues (victim mentality, inferiority complex, etc.)
  • Resolve your problems of denial, avoidance & self-defeating strategies
  • Work through your doubts, fears and anxieties
  • Capitalize your signature strengths and virtues
  • Discover and re-affirm your calling and purpose
  • Develop the right action plan for self-improvement
  • Devise a right plan to develop your self-esteem
  • Evaluate regularly to make sure that you are making progress

The six pillars of self-esteem (N. Branden):

It takes daily practice to repair and develop self-esteem.

  1. Practice of living consciously (being mindful and aware)
  2. Practice of self-acceptance (living with one’s limitations)
  3. Practice of self-responsibility (living responsibly and conscientiously)
  4. Practice of self-assertion (being authentic and courageous)
  5. Practice of living purposefully (living with a higher purpose)
  6. Practice of personal integrity (living with dignity, integrity and self-respect)

The magic wheel of faith (P. Wong):

The five spiritual practices for moving forward psychologically, spiritually, academically and professionally

  1. Practice of belief (affirm your beliefs and values to counteract your doubts and fears)
  2. Practice of prayer (pray all kinds of prayers continuously)
  3. Practice of endurance (persevere through failures and difficulties)
  4. Practice of acceptance (surrender yourself to God and accept whatever life throws at you)
  5. Practice of praise (express gratitude and thanksgiving for who God is and for all His blessings regardless of your circumstances)

Psychological problems of life without work

  • Unemployment, retirement, the idle rich and chronic sickness can create psychological problems, such as boredom and meaninglessness
  • Lack of challenge and purpose
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Frustration, discouragement, depression and anger
  • Marriage problems
  • Mental and physical health problems

Coping with unemployment

  • Don’t be a victim
  • Not fate but choice
  • Be a volunteer and seek opportunities of service
  • Improve yourself and make yourself more marketable
  • Seek career counselling & job retraining
  • A paid job is not essential to meaning
  • Don’t equate calling with employment
  • Cannot use work as a escape from meaninglessness
  • Take on several part-time jobs
  • Make use of the time to create content for your life

“The certainty of death terrifies only the person who has a guilty conscience towards his life. Death making the end of a lifetime can frighten only the person who has not lived his lifetime to the full” (p.130)