Is window cleaning work meaningful work?


#1

Taking DeKoster’s defining aspect of work, “it is how we make ourselves useful to others,” is sober economics, not some glitzy feel good mantra.
The truth is goods and services, like window cleaning, engineering, or nursing, are not produced as ends in themselves. Either the service benefits others or there is no demand for their doing. The bottom line, either we sell our services because they are useful to others or no one hires us to render them.
We find work to do, in fact, only because what we do is useful, that is salable, to another. Our work, windows, power washing, etc., gives meaning to life because work is the way in which we make ourselves useful to others, to society.
Sometimes others advise us to try to give meaning to our work (instead of finding it there) by thinking of our work in other terms, is it my “passion, calling”, etc,. My work has meaning, by the fact that others buy my services. The meaning we seek is in work itself, it is inherent. We don’t need to conjure value and meaning.
"Work is the gift of self to the service of others that becomes the fabric of civilization."
I have been in this industry for 20 year. I am sure you have found, as I have, that people are more than happy to pay for quality window cleaning at their businesses and homes. Here’s to another profitable, meaningful year at work!


#2

What a great post @Jared

I think it is meaningful work if it aligns with your own goals and purpose.

I went through a multi-year period no so long ago. Kinda feeling “meaningless” and unfulfilled in my work. But after mentally defining my end goal it became “meaningful” to me again. Once I commited to my lifes purpose it all kinda clicked and I have been happier and more jazzed about work then ever before.


#3

You just have to have a good, clear, concise mission statement.


#4

Chris,
I appreciate the positive feedback. If you don’t mind sharing, I am interested in what your end goal is, and how it was helpful.

I must admit, over and above all the philosophical, a fun video does go a long way. Thank JaredAI


#5

I just like cleaning windows. Lots to learn, good physical outdoors work and even relaxing sometimes.


#6

I guess I dont find my work meaningful personally but others obviously do.

What I personally find meaningful is what I do with the income and extra time my profession offers me.


#7

jhans,
I personally don’t find commercial route work fulfilling, or many repetitive detail tasks rewarding. I appreciate those that do and value their contribution. However, meaningfulness, as it relates to work is to a large degree separate of our tastes, and desires.
Work is inherently meaningful because it is that which contributes to the flourishing of society, no matter the cultural accolades or lack, the task may receive. For example, even though I don’t find washing store front glass that “meaningful”, it is. Why?
The store owner, now does not need to spend their time on this task. They can focus on “their” work. Having clean glass promotes more shoppers feeling comfortable entering their shop. The glass is preserved from lasting damage, thus significant asset preservation. They lower their safety risk (high glass), as I am trained and have proper equipment. The example can continue.
The nature of this example can be replicated for any industry. Have a trash man stop coming to a town and their are significant impacts. He may not enjoy his job. However, if he looks at it from this more philosophical reality he can more easily see the meaning and value he brings to society, lifting up many people by his service.
The money we receive in remuneration can be another form of fulfillment but as a separate topic from work. I think that would be a great topic to reflect on if you have some thoughts.


#8

Excellent topic @Jared. I think @jhans is a realist and doesn’t see the need to analyze his situation or profession.

Can’t wait to see @JaredAI post his in-depth philosophical analysis of this topic. I truly mean that, not poking fun at you @JaredAI.


#9

I guess work that is meaningful in my eyes would be nursing, doctors, police, fireman, military, etc.


#10

Very meaningful to us.

-A store’s livelihood could depend on how clean thier windows are.
-A Restraunt that keeps its’ windows clean, probably keeps the kitchen clean.
-A homeowner that doesnt want dirt and bacteria on her window tracks is protecting her family.
-Schools with toddlers that literally lick the windows want to know that those windows are clean…

Also, we dress as super heroes and have a blast entertaining kids in schools, teachers, kids in the hospitals, and even strangers that stop for a moment and stare.

We make friends, share ideas, and even break bread with most of our customers.

I have served in the military, been on the combat field, been in the hospital and attended my buddies funerals… my service was meaningful to many wives, mothers, fathers, strangers, etc… window cleaning is just as meaningful but in a very different way.

Seeing those sickly children light up when “Batman” or “Wonder Woman” walk into the room, truly is priceless. To know that we helped them for a brief moment forget about thier illness… is probably the most meaningful thing I have ever done.

And truthfully, I probably wouldn’t have that oppertunity were it not for window cleaning.

So I believe anything can be meaningful, if you put your heart into it.


#11

I have thought the same thing. Now, however I think a little bit differently.
There are many goods each profession produces that are particular to the industry they are in. However, the ripple affect of each job is impossible to fully quantify. Society flourishes as each job and industry functions well. If one of any number of industries do not contribute to society there are costs quantifiable, and unquantifiable.
The reinforcement of the goodness of people and trust exhibited by window cleaners being trusted in peoples homes is one example. The fabric of society, the basic framework of trust, is reinforced by many window cleaners as they are brought into peoples homes, often sharing private family knowledge in conversation. This is a non-quantifiable good that is a part of the meaningfulness of our particular work.
Rather than a hierarchical evaluation of our contribution, pitting our talents and work against another persons, looking at the intergratedness of our work across society is to me a more accurate way of looking at our jobs. While some jobs are more evidently meaningful, a trauma surgeon, without a host of other people would be less effective, unable to work, poorly educated, etc. No job, or work, stands alone. We depend on everyone showing up at work and doing their best, day in and day out. From everyone working we all begin to flourish. I think the hierarchical valuation, made in dollars or some other standard may help, but the nature of work is that it is inherently valuable. I appreciate the truck driver moving food around the country and the farmer getting up at the crack of dawn to grow food. I would go hungry otherwise.
I find it is easier to appreciate others work, and my own, with this paradigm of seeing the larger picture of an integrated society and the good and meaningfulness of all work.


#12

RSH, fantastically put. I really like the relational element you put in. I am amazed by the volume of details people will share. Things they don’t share within their own family. The residential work is surprisingly personal. I find this element personally rewarding.

I didn’t really need to add my last post. I say your post right when I hit reply. Well said.


#13

Meaningful in some profound, touching way? Eh, not really. But when done right, and we see our customers rave about how clean their windows are or how thankful they are, I find that meaningful.

Plus, as others mentioned, this profession affords us the flexibility to live our lives on our schedule, to take time off when we want to spend it with those we want to be with. I find that meaningful.


#14

Are you really sure you want a serious answer? Okay, but it’s your fault!

Words have very distinct meanings and definitions to me. When someone asks if this is “meaningful work?” I have to ask what the definition of “meaningful” is. I find it very satisfying to clean a window and leave it in clear perfection. But is it meaningful? Sure, in a limited definition of the word “meaningful” ie it provides value to another person and gives me satisfaction in a job well done. However, it’s not real meaningful-ness, it’s just value-ness.

Old School philosophers would equate “meaningful life” to either the “chief end of man” or “ultimate happiness.” The first point of Spurgeon’s catechism claims that the chief end of man is to glorify God. Thomas Aquinas spends a huge part of his Summa on the subject of ultimate happiness.

What they wrestled with was when all is said and done, when you close your eyes for the last time - what ultimate meaning did your life have? Providing value for customers is not the same as having meaning to them. What you do is not essential to their existence but only has a limited value in that they can replace you tomorrow if they needed. So, your window cleaning isn’t inherently meaningful but it is valuable.

For Thomas, you’ll have to dive into the deep end of the pool but basically he asks what can give you ultimate happiness (or meaning)?

Wealth? Nope - wealth is only good for the sake of something else.

Honor? Nope - that’s given for some aspect or character of the person honored but if you already have that aspect or character then honor doesn’t add to it.

Fame? Nope - because in order to get fame someone has to know you did what you did. And knowledge of what you did is fallible or limited.

Power? Nope - power can be used for good or evil so power isn’t the ultimate good.

Your Body? Nope - pigs wallow in mud and that’s good for them but not for us. So bodily goods can be surpassed by animals in certain contexts.

Your Soul? Nope - happiness is something belonging to the soul, but that which constitutes happiness is outside of the soul.

Happiness is defined the perfect good. Every creature participates in the good, but God is essentially good. Window cleaning can make me happy, can make me money, can even give me fame, but it’s not the ultimate meaning or good of my life.


#15

@RSH but you could also entertain kids, teachers, and strangers as something other than a window cleaner. So the value is in YOU not in what you do. No matter what you did, YOU would bring the value with you. If you were a carpet cleaner, you would still be you.

And a lot of people would say that capitalism is evil. But only in a free market are we allowed to assign value (and meaning) to our work. If we didn’t have a free market, then it would be better to replace us all with robots.


#16

I disagree that the value lies solely in me…i created a value to others. I continue to create.

Entertainetrs create movies and the audience values the escape of watching thier movies to the point they pay to see it.

The value of anything is most treasured by the person receiving it. And they will usually put a price tag on its’ worth.

You may not see the value in what you do, but others, I assure you, do.


#17

Jared, well said. I appreciate your thoughtful response. I was purposefully writing more widely. Yes, I agree that the ultimate good is to glorify God, however, not addressing the ultimate good but instead, is our work meaningful, is more my point. God has made us that through working (and other times) we actually sculpt the kind of selves we each are becoming and for eternity. Matt 25:31-46 is a great reflection on actions, ie. work.
From a Christian perspective, if we are judged by our actions they have meaning, not simply “value-ness”. Work, service to others, actions, must have more than simply value. Meaningfulness is more to the root of the inherent nature of the good of work. I agree that accuracy in thinking about work is incredibly important. As a Christian, I don’t want to inadvertently reinforce a worldly way of looking at my own labor or others. My ontological understanding is of critical importance. It influences how I see myself and how I treat others.

I appreciate the conversation.


#18

You can’t give or create what you isn’t within you. If you sat at home and watched soaps, then any value you have wouldn’t be actualized. If you go out and do something, then it comes from within you. You create the value by what you do and others might put a price tag on it but others (like the kids in the hospital) can’t put a price on it because it can’t be bought.


#19

Yeah i think we are saying the same thing.