What Mike Bloomberg and science can teach you about meaningful work



Mike Bloomberg is one of those people who both inspires you and makes you feel tiny.

You know him as the former Mayor of New York, the founder and CEO of Bloomberg L.P., the 8th richest man in the United States, or even as a philanthropist who’s pledged to donate most of his $48 billion fortune.

Did you know that his first donation was just a $5 check to Johns Hopkins University’s alumni association?

It’s likely you felt inadequate reading that first sentence, and a little better reading the second.

People “find it next to impossible to hear about others’ successes… without reflecting on their own accomplishments and status.” Measuring ourselves against others is a reason for much of our unhappiness, but evidence from University of California and Stanford researchers indicates that social comparison can also lead to “feeling inspired, optimistic, and hopeful” — depending on how we use it.

In this post I share four science-backed ways Mike Bloomberg has made his career seem so meaningful. I hope you find inspiration in them, and use them to inject meaning into your work.

On pursuing what is meaningful to *you*

“When Bloomberg started out as clerk on the Wall Street trading desk of Salomon Brothers in 1966 he thought there must be a better way to get up to the minute financial data than combing through the Wall Street Journal.

He spent 15 years trying to convince his partners at Salomon that computers could be the answer. When they fired him in 1981, he used his $10 million severance to hire three young engineers and launch his startup.” — Steve Kroft, 60 Minutes

Mike Bloomberg started his company before personal computers existed. He knew in his core what he cared to work on, and set out to do it before others understood his vision. Today, Bloomberg L.P’s most successful product, Bloomberg Terminal, generates $8 billion in annual revenue.

No one can define meaningful work for you. MIT Sloan Management Review recently published research that says as much:

“Meaningfulness at work tends to be intensely personal and individual.”

On taking time to reflect on achievements

“I like what I see when I look in the mirror….we’ve spent one billion trying to convince people to not smoke. It’s been phenomenally successful. We’ve probably saved millions of lives. There aren’t many people that have done that. So, you know, when I get to heaven, I’m not sure I’m gonna stand for an interview. I’m going right in.” — Mike Bloomberg

Mike Bloomberg takes the time to reflect on his achievements, and it turns out it’s not just an exercise in ego-stroking. If he didn’t take the time to reflect on his accomplishments, it’s unlikely that he’d feel as content. This according to the same study from MIT:

“Meaningfulness is rarely experienced in the moment, but rather in retrospect and on reflection when people are able to see their completed work and make connections between their achievements and a wider sense of life meaning.”

On serving the greater social good

“….I don’t have much sympathy for industries whose products leave behind a trail of diseased and dead bodies….keep in mind, Mike Bloomberg’s kids and grandkids are breathing that air just like the coalminers’ families are breathing that air.” — Mike Bloomberg

Mike Bloomberg’s finds much satisfaction in tackling social issues far outside the financial realm. In an effort to protect the environment for his kids and grandkids, he donated $100 million to help the Sierra Club shut down 250+ coal fired plants. According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Career Assessment, finding ways to impact the greater good will lead to greater well-being:

“People who say their work… serves some greater social or communal good report better psychological adjustment.”

On not shying away from challenges

“Loved every minute of it. It’s a wonderful job. The challenges are enormous, but you have a great opportunity to make a difference.” — Mike Bloomberg

During Mike Bloomberg’s tenure as Mayor of New York, he cut crime by 30%, pushed health policies that increased the average life expectancy of New Yorkers by 3 years, and led education reform that drove graduation rates up by 40%.

Surely, none of these accomplishments were achieved easily. The individuals who find work most meaningful don’t do it by dodging challenges:

“People often find their work to be full of meaning at moments associated with mixed, uncomfortable, or even painful thoughts and feelings, not just a sense of unalloyed joy and happiness.”

If there are strategies you use to make your work feel meaningful, I’d love to discuss them in the comments below!


At Journal, we give people their time back to do better work.


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