While it’s easy to see how doctors and teachers can find meaning in their careers, can people who work in finance find the same sense of fulfillment in their jobs? To find out, we speak with former investment banker and current TechWallet CEO Eugene Plotkin.
“The concept of ‘meaning’ is something that we struggle to incorporate into our educational system,” Plotkin says. “Many students are exposed to the importance of working hard, building a career, and acquiring wealth and status. But we are not great at providing frameworks for finding meaning and contentment.”
Indeed, finding meaning at the office has become increasingly important to modern workers. During the lockdowns of the pandemic, many employees used their time off to re-evaluate their jobs and their ideal life.
What they found was far from perfect. When the call came to return to work, many either quit outright or engaged in “quiet quitting”. Many workers realized they wanted careers to provide more than just money. They wanted their work to bring meaning to their lives as well.
This is especially true for the finance sector according to Plotkin. When people think of meaningful work, they tend to think about volunteer positions, nonprofit work, or outreach to communities in need. With its focus on the bottom line and a tendency to reduce people’s lives to numbers, the field of finance does not seem to lend itself easily to a sense of higher purpose. However, according to Plotkin, there is an additional level of nuance.
“Like any industry, finance offers a number of meaningful and socially impactful jobs,” Plotkin says. “Finance is a multifaceted sector that provides real opportunities for individuals to make a difference in their communities and in the world at large.”
“Finance has certain stereotypes. There’s an idea that people who work in finance see everything in terms of money or reduce everything to numbers,” Plotkin says. “But I’ve never found that to be true. In fact, I think it’s hard to truly effect change without considering the financial element. But beyond that, the financial sector can allow people to find meaning in multiple ways.”
“The first thing you have to do is figure out what brings you meaning, which is easier said than done,” Plotkin explains. “It’s not something about which everyone has reflected. We’re used to treating a job as just something we have to do rather than something that can provide us with fulfillment.”
Examples of meaningful work include using your skills to serve others, finding a job that allows you to master and deploy a skill, having the ability to live the life you desire, and working alongside like-minded people.
“If you know what meaningful work is to you, it’s much easier to find the right opportunity, whether in the financial sector or in any other industry,” Eugene Plotkin says. “For example, if you can look over a company’s financial statements and discover an error that saves money and allows the business to keep workers that might otherwise be laid off, that is profound. Imagine getting to do that every day.”
He cited other examples: An accountant who helps an entrepreneur keep their business above water and a financial planner whose advice makes it possible for a family to send their kids to college.
“If you feel that you’re here to help others, you can work for a mission-oriented organization, volunteer your time to help low income clients, or find ways to increase the amount of personal income you donate to charity,” Eugene Plotkin says. “Or if you’re happiest when you’re solving big, knotty problems, you can find fulfillment as an advisor who helps businesses stay solvent while going carbon neutral or using greener materials.”
“Some people have decided to seek their higher purpose outside of their jobs,” Plotkin notes. “These are folks that look for meaning during their personal time. Being with family, doing unpaid creative work, or enjoying hobbies is how they find meaning. I can understand where they are coming from.”
He had one last piece of advice for young people thinking about a financial career.
“Ben Franklin said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes,” Plotkin says. “If nothing else, a career in finance provides the skills to handle the better of those two certainties.”