Discovering the Meaning of Everything

Part VI of The Religious Sense at Work series: a witness from an accountant to a spirit of service

The Religious Sense at Work is a weekly limited series that explores the way our communal reading of The Religious Sense informs and illuminates our experience of work.

I have been working as a senior manager in the tax department of an important accounting firm for more than 25 years. My tasks include preparing the annual income tax returns for banks and other financial institutions and helping them to comply with tax laws and regulations. In order to do that, I supervise a team of younger professionals assigned to each of the 15 clients which I am called to manage.

Reflecting on how The Religious Sense has impacted my job, one passage is particularly relevant: “The question of religious awareness, of the religious sense, is: ‘What is the meaning of everything?’ We must understand that […] we are dealing with something that has been an integral aspect of the behavior of men and women in all times and tends to affect all human activity” (RS, p 4).

This focus on asking about the meaning of what I do (or come across), helped me realize that since I work in a service company – a company that provides tax services to clients – the immediate measurable value of my job does not rest on how well I perform, but on how well the clients’ needs are met. Shifting the attention from performance to the clients’ needs has produced, over time, a less stressful work environment among my team and better results. The relationships with the younger colleagues I supervise is greatly facilitated if they feel that we are together serving our clients and that their value is not simply based on their performance. I try to communicate to them that while we have different tasks and responsibilities, each of them is indispensable for the final result and therefore the value and dignity of our work is the same.

Furthermore, this habit of pondering the meaning of my work made me understand that even in preparing a tax return I can contribute to a greater common good. In fact, it allows my clients to pay the right amount of taxes so that their businesses, and the social context in which they operate, can thrive.

I also discovered that more than anything, what gives me satisfaction at work is a well-done job – this matters even more than the bonus at the end of the year or the esteem of my bosses, even if I am not indifferent to them. I noticed that a job is well done when it achieves the intended result in obedience to all the given circumstances (including the satisfaction of my client, boss, and team members) and is accompanied by a pinch of an awareness of how it is connected with the “meaning of everything”, like a little stone finding its right place in the mosaic of the world. I still remember the day I was able to intuit that this “meaning of everything” could have to do with stapling a thick tax return, sparking in me the desire to do it in the best possible way, even if no one would ever notice it.
In an age where communicating seems to be more difficult than ever (even if, paradoxically, we have many ways to do it), I learned that being attentive and quickly responsive to others is one of the most highly appreciated components of my job. For me, this discovery is rooted in the habit of paying close attention to what corresponds to my deepest needs and what doesn’t.

I have been fascinated to discover in a new way the value of The Religious Sense, even if I first read it over 48 years ago! It is like a bottomless well of wisdom that has helped me to experience freedom – first in my experience as a student and, now, in my experience at work. Striving to ask questions about the meaning of my job, and taking notice of what makes it attractive or interesting helped me to find more satisfaction in my work and in the relationships with my clients and colleagues. As Fr. Giussani says, “I would therefore say: if we wish to become adults without being deceived, alienated, enslaved by others, or exploited, we must become accustomed to comparing everything with this elementary experience” (RS, p 11).

Angelo, Brooklyn, NY