In most people’s minds the words meaningful and work have little, if any, connection. Our culture has become such that we are encouraged to choose a career based on its ability to provide security and financial stability rather than opportunity for alignment with our passions and dreams.
The prospect of finding fulfilling work is believed to be relegated to the lucky few born with extraordinary talent, wealth or an unusual drive to succeed. And the numbers back this up – job satisfaction is at all time lows. Yet, there is no reason why these two aspects of life should be mutually exclusive for anyone. Meaningful work is not just possible, it is your birthright.
“Meaningful work is not just possible, it is your birthright”
Most of us have no trouble getting excited about the prospect of finding meaningful work—after all, is that not a dream we all share—to be able to support ourselves doing something we love and are deeply passionate about? The problem lies in the fact that many of us have come to believe that it is simply not possible or wishful thinking at best. Yet, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Like anything in life, with the right knowledge and tools, anyone can be empowered to accomplish whatever it is they set their mind to.
Now, let’s get into the eight keys to find meaningful work.
1. Don’t Get too Specific – Just Head in the Right General Direction
One of the major mistakes that people make when searching for meaningful work is trying to pinpoint the exact thing they should be doing. It is rare that someone knows precisely what they want to do with their lives. This knowledge only usually comes after some time is spent heading in the right general direction.
To use an analogy, if you are in New York and you need to get to Los Angeles, at first you simply go West. Having a specific address is not necessary until you get much closer to your destination.
Finding meaningful work operates in much the same way. At first, just figure out in a very general sense:
- What qualities you value and would like your job/career to have
- What you would like to be doing if money were not an issue
With this information, you can begin to explore what fields would be a potentially good fit for you.
Your goal should be to find something that aligns with the vision you create for yourself as closely as possible. As you dive deeper into an area that you are interested in, you will begin to notice what you are most strongly drawn towards.
2. Your Direction Will Change Many Times
Where you start and where you end up will be related, but still distinctly different. Most people won’t discover their life’s work right off the bat. As you begin to follow what you are interested in, you will find increasing clarity as you explore your passions and different fields of work. It is important to embrace the uncertainty that comes with this process and not feel that you need to get everything right on the first try.
It is highly likely that what you thought was right for you at the start of your journey will change many times. However, each correction of course will bring you ever closer to the work that is most meaningful and fulfilling for you.
3. Mix Your Passions With Your Values and Talents
If you are not sure what your passions are, try asking yourself the following question:
If money was not an issue, but you still had to work for a living, what would you do?
The answer to this question will provide you with extremely valuable insight into what type of work would be deeply meaningful and fulfilling for you.
This is not to say that you must find a career that directly maps onto one of your specific passions, however, to maximize your happiness and fulfillment, whatever job or field you choose should tap into or relate to them in some way.
4. Pursue a Job or Career Path that Fosters Learning
If you are having difficulty figuring out what it is you are passionate about, then at the very least, pursuing work that encourages learning and growth is your next best bet.
Seeking work that encourages learning, achievement and growth results in expansion of one’s self-worth, opportunities and potential careers. Ultimately it will help you to discover what is right for you. If you are truly unsure what to do, work on growing yourself as an individual.
“If you are truly unsure what to do, work on growing yourself as an individual.”
5. Return to Your Passion
Regardless of whether you will be changing careers, venturing out on your own or staying in your current position, it is crucial to highlight the importance of incorporating your passion and interests into your work life. For example, if you enjoy helping others, perhaps this takes the form of organizing a charitable event or initiative within your company.
If in your current position there is simply no way for you to integrate your passions into your work, you may consider making a lateral move within your company.
6. Integrate Social Responsibility
UC Berkeley psychologists, Morten Hansen and Dacher Keltner, suggest that making a contribution that extends beyond yourself can provide a greater sense of fulfillment and potentially even transform an otherwise less than ideal job into a form of meaningful work.
One way to do this is by taking the initiative to create or join a movement that integrates eco-social awareness and responsibility into the workplace or incorporates it as part of the overarching business model of the organization.
7. Find ways to Engender flow
Finding tasks that are naturally compatible with your skills and passions, but difficult enough to provide a challenge and stimulate creative problem solving can result in deeply fulfilling and enjoyable states of ‘flow’. This state is characterized by intense focus, boundless energy, and total immersion in the present activity to the point where time seems to dilate, either slowing down or passing much more rapidly.
8. Create a More Positive Environment
Research suggests that participating in a work environment that cultivates a sense of community, encourages taking personal or group initiatives and provides an overall sense of freedom can enhance job satisfaction by creating feelings of belonging, self-worth, and reward.
A good way to cultivate this type of environment if none exists is by taking the initiative and embracing principle number two, integrate social responsibility.
Either way, it is important to remember that you are never trapped in a given line of work, despite how it may seem at times. Making major changes in your life may require you to summon great courage, but always know that where passion and determination align, there is little that can stop you from being successful in whatever path you ultimately pursue.