Money & Careers

Northern California Women Making a Difference

Meaningful work? What is that exactly? Ask 10 different women their definition and you’ll receive 10 different answers. Inherent in the question is an assumption that there is meaningful work and then there is the dead-end job. Not every woman is in an economic position to ‘follow her bliss,” as Joseph Campbell said. Consider the uneducated single mom with three kids to feed. Her mind-numbing employment is made meaningful by her awareness that she’s doing important work: keeping her children fed, clothed and safe. What higher goal? For many people, work that pays the rent is highly meaningful.

For women who have retired, however, and have raised their families, the question takes on an alternate meaning. Those with the economic freedom to pursue their passions answer quite differently. For Stephanie Symes, a former nurse in Montreal and now a resident of Northern California, her definition of meaningful work includes “interest and passion with a particular subject — human biology, disease, processes of healing in the case of nursing and passing on the interest and knowledge to others.”  Today Symes finds inspiration in beauty — plants, trees, landscapes. That passion translated into a volunteer job with Master Gardeners, where her fascination with the natural world has found a home. She enjoys working with people, educating them and sharing her love of plants. Symes has also volunteered in schools, working directly with youngsters, helping them with their studies. She enjoys the direct contact with children and sees immediate positive results from their interactions. “Working in the classroom and turning children on to reading and literature is really wonderful,” she said.

Joanna Robinson of Nevada City, Calif., takes issue with the term meaningful work because for her the term has a nuance of self-congratulation, of having the luxury to volunteer instead of working a 9-to-5 job. “I used to think that assembly-line work would be frightful drudgery until I got to know the people who actually did it,” she said. “Most of them took pride in the products their work contributed to creating.” Robinson, who was instrumental in starting Hospitality House, Nevada County’s homeless shelter, says that helping the homeless has been the most inspiring work she has ever done. “I get inspiration from seeing hungry people eat and from seeing folks safe and warm at night. I was inspired to do that work by a lifetime of outrage. Why doesn’t everyone have a place to live and enough to eat?” The answers to such questions have prompted Joanna to make important changes in her community. They have given her courage to take action, because, as she says: “I face the ongoing barrier of being a basically shy, retiring bookworm. But books and media have been inspiring, too, because knowledge … provides legitimate power based on informed analysis.” (Hospitality House was also the vision of folksinger Utah Phillips, Robinson’s husband, which is why the shelter also bears his name.)

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  • Molly Fisk September 24, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    Thanks for this, Judie. Insightful and got me thinking…

    Reply