You know that moment during the day when you're staring at your computer monitor and suddenly, as if blown by a chill wind, you shudder with the sense that perhaps your work is completely insignificant, that the great machine we call the globe would run just fine if your cog suddenly went missing? No? Well, good for you, Mr. or Mrs. Self-Actualization. But anyway, the job market data collectors at PayScale.com decided to poll the existential state of the American workforce, and asked 2 million of its users whether their jobs made the world a better place.
One occupation stood out among all others when it came to meaninglessness: parking lot attendants, only 5 percent of whom thought their toil improved things. It was the only job within which less than 20 percent found their work meaningful. (That's PayScale's word, by the way, not mine. Presumably, you can find deep meaning in your work even if you don't think it's doing much to help the lot of your fellow humans.) I can see how looking out over a vast expanse of concrete while sitting alone in a booth might leave one feeling as if he or she is not making much of a contribution to the universe. But, to me, it seems like attendants are unnecessarily down on their work. Someone needs to watch over the cars. And just imagine what getting out of a stadium parking lot would be like without someone directing the traffic flow.
For that matter, I noticed a few occupations that seemed to sell themselves short. Only 53 percent of pilots and flight engineers thought they were making the world a better place, even though they make it possible for human beings to fly through the air in giant vessels made of steel. Likewise, only 56 percent of architects—without whom we would literally have no shelter, or at best be living in mud huts—found their work especially meaningful. That compares with 46 percent of telemarketers, which, well, OK.
Though if you just glance at the chart there doesn't obviously seem to be much correlation (positive or negative) between "meaningfulness" and lucrativeness, PayScale says most of the best compensated job titles score at least 75 percent on the "are you helping the world?" scale. One interesting exception is coding-heavy jobs like software engineers (again, staring into that computer screen all day can be rough). Meanwhile, doctors do exceptionally well on both fronts. Lucky them.