Book Review: Meaningful Work by Shawn Askinosie

It was the holiday season, I was taking some time off work, and wanted to read something outside of the normal business books I tend to gravitate to. That’s when I remembered a book called Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul by Shawn Askinosie. I first learned about this book from Seth Godin and thought to myself, “I love chocolate and I just so happen to be constantly seeking out deeper purpose and meaning in my work. Let’s check that one out.”

Here are three things I loved about this book:

1. The quest for meaning

Shawn Askinosie was a lawyer, and a successful one at that, but he was unhappy. So unhappy in fact that he was taking medication for depression. He needed to find purpose and meaning in his work and life. That sent him on a five-year quest that involved much soul searching and prayer. He says:

Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.

He goes on to ask:

What is the intersection of your talents, what the world needs, and your passion?

Great question. I appreciated his transparency in this process as he uncovered a true passion for making great chocolate and found a way to make a difference in the world. I’ve been exploring where my own talents and passions intersect with the world’s need.

2. Making great, direct trade chocolate

A good portion of this book is about the process of making chocolate. Askinosie talks at length about sourcing his cocoa beans through direct trade. He defines it:

Direct trade is knowing and having a relationship with our cocoa farmers, who we refer to as “farmer partners” — because that’s what they are; we consider them partners in our business.

This relationship with farmers means paying them directly for their beans. When you deal directly with the farmer you have more control over the quality and are less likely to haggle on price when you know that an unfair rate means they live in poverty. Askinosie pays farmers 47% more than the typical price.

He shared a stat in this book that stuck out to me. Charging a dollar more for a chocolate bar has an impact of approximately 0.001% on the average American paycheck. For the farmers, however, that’s a 50% increase in their income. When’s the last time that $0.50 candy bar from the supermarket connected you with the farmers that grew the cocoa beans in such a way that you understood their economic situation?

3. The concept of “enough”

There’s so much great introspection in this book. Askinosie talks at length about his private retreats at a monastery where he periodically takes time to stop “doing” and instead spend time “being.” Did you know that there are monasteries all around the country where you can go away from a private retreat? I’m totally doing one in the near future.

One thing that’s fascinating about the monastic life is the fact that they don’t accept charity. The monks have a trade or a product to sell in order to make enough money to support their monastery. This might mean brewing beer or making bread to sell. He goes on to explore this concept of “enough” and the way they make enough money and not a penny more. And enough isn’t necessarily a set dollar figure but they seem to know where that line is.

In his own business, this means making enough money to pay all of his employees a living wage. It also means that they don’t take on investors or debt to grow their business but instead work within their means.

I’ll conclude by saying that I bought a sampling of Askinosie chocolate. I was struck by the pictures of actual farmers on the packaging with a bio about them, deeply connecting me the customer with the farmer. I also should note that while all of the chocolate was incredible, my favorite is the Dark Chocolate + Coconut Sugar & Toasted Coconut CollaBARation™  Bar. I wish more books tasted that good!

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