Why the smartest people choose meaning over money

We’ve heard over and over that millennials are idealistic.

In a 2014 study commissioned by McGraw-Hill Education, The Grad Gap, the majority of graduating students (73%) say it was more important to find a job that allows them to do what they love, than to find a job that pays well (20%). What’s more, 45% of students reported they would prefer a job that is beneficial to society while only 27% reported they would prefer a job that simply pays well. But working for meaning rather than money isn’t exclusively important to the youngest generation of workers, says Bill Connolly, author of The Success Disconnect.

Here’s how we can all benefit from finding meaningful work.


Success, Connolly argues, doesn’t only have to mean financial power. “Different people have individualistic definitions of success,” he says. In order to find your personal definition of success, you first need to find what you value most. While some may find success by doing meaningful work, others may find success when they’re constantly working on challenging projects.


Meaningful work helps to motivate you more than money does. “Money stops acting as a motivational element because people habituate to money,” says Connolly. While the promise of a raise may motivate you when you’re first starting out in your career, the further ahead you get, the less money will motivate you. The reason is that we all habituate to money.

Once we have enough money that all of our needs and some of our wants are being met, getting a little more money loses its motivational force since we’ve already become habituated to a certain lifestyle. Finding meaning in your work or helping others, however, are things that you don’t habituate to, says Connolly.


“The most valuable thing we have is our relationships with others,” says Connolly. If you’re working in a place where you feel you’re doing more meaningful work, you’ll be able to relate better to your coworkers, who are also motivated by the value of intrinsic work.

From a corporate standpoint, a workforce that’s motivated by meaningful work is more loyal than one that’s driven by the all-mighty dollar. “If people in a corporation feel that they’re working toward something together and there’s a common goal that’s driving them closer together, they’re going to be more loyal to the company,” says Connolly.


People who feel they’re doing meaningful work are more included to stay late or work more simply because they enjoy their work. This ultimately leads to greater success in the long run.


In the age of social media, we’re bombarded by pressure to continually achieve. Facebook is simply an online archive of people’s mini-achievements. Because we’re so overly exposed to others’ lives, the pressure to perform and climb the ladder is more intense than ever before.

When people are doing meaningful work, they often have a deeper self-understanding because they have already identified their passions and their self-definition of success and are less anxious about having to compete with everyone around them. “These people realize they don’t have to get to the top of THE mountain, they just have to get to the top of THEIR mountain,” says Connolly.

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