Most of us want to feel that the work we do is in some way meaningful; that our work has significance and purpose, and that the contributions we make have a positive impact on the greater good. It’s no surprise that with meaningful work comes drive, clarity, and happiness.
Research shows that finding meaning in your work can increase motivation, empowerment, engagement, job satisfaction, career development, individual performance and personal fulfilment.
So, what is the current state of meaningful work?
Meaningful work today
If you think the term “meaningful work” was coined by Millennials, think again. The idea of meaningful work has existed for a long time, it’s just that today it’s a buzzword. Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Heraclitus (circa 535-475) famously said:
“Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become”
The quest for meaningful work is true for all generation cohorts, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Some want their workplaces to be interesting and valued, while others desire a sense of belonging. Some find meaning in a competitive salary and good organisational benefits, while others are happy with a low wage as long as the work aligns with their principles and own unique set of skills.
Let’s for a moment though, say that your idea of ‘meaningful work’ is doing something that has a positive impact on the world. How might you go about finding ‘meaningful work’? Here are 9 tips to start.
1. Know what’s important
What’s important to one person might be very different to what’s important to you. Positive impact has many different meanings and people can change the world in a multitude of ways.
Write down the things that you believe are the essence of how you want to live life and consider how your values might fit into your career. To start, try asking yourself the following questions:
Do you want to improve people’s health, be it physically or mentally?
Do you want to help people feel more comfortable in their senior years?
Do you want to reduce consumption of animal products, processed foods, chemicals or conventional medicine?
Do you want to support fair trade, recycle and work sustainably?
Do you want to stand up for injustice or help people overcome social challenges?
Do you want to provide quality care for the future generation so that they too can help make the world a more positive place?
Learn your values and uncover the different ways you can embark on a meaningful career path.
Think about the way you travel. Let’s say you’re driving from Sydney to Brisbane to visit a friend. You know you need to head north and for the most part, you can simply head in that direction. It’s not until you’re just outside of Brisbane that you need to punch the address into Google Maps.
Think broadly at first and then hone in as the details reveal themselves.
3. Consider your talents
Your ideal job will be one that meets your values and your talents in the middle. This effective integration gives you the chance to do something that you not only care about, but something you’re naturally prone to being successful at. As Aristotle said,
“Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation”
4. Add fulfilment to your current work
There are a number of ways to find meaning in what you’re already doing – no one ever said you have to have a clean slate. Change your perspective by making a list of the positives in your job and think about why you took the job on in the first place. Chances are there was something in particular that you felt good about.
Try switching up your approach to demanding tasks and make room to explore additional projects in the organisation that might be more aligned with your values. Build new relationships with your co-workers, be a mentor to another employee, or start a social club.
5. Focus on what you ‘give’ not what you ‘get’
Rather than look for a job that ticks all your boxes, look at it from the perspective of others. What can the job do for them? What does the big picture look like? Knowing you are helping others will make your tasks feel less mundane because you’ll be able to see what they create and why they are necessary. If you love what you do, getting out of bed each morning is easy. And when you’re less stressed, you become open to other opportunities, too.
6. Find a like-minded community
Today’s wide range of apps has made finding like-minded people easy. Apps like Meetup connect you with people who share the same interests, and will show you what events and activities are in your area. Not only is this a fun way to meet new people and discuss the topics you love, you can share your work so they can become your collaborators, advocates, or even employers.
7. Conduct reviews
Doing a monthly review of your work allows you the chance to see how your work is aligning with your values and skills. Include highlights from the past month, the outcome of the last month’s goal, a goal for the month ahead, and a revisited list of personal values and beliefs.
You might like to look at not just your working life, but your personal life too. Add your biggest personal milestone of the month, as well as your most valuable lesson learned.
“By doing meaningful work for the first 60-90 minutes of your day, no matter what happens later that day, you will have advanced your personal mission”
The reality is that if your capacity for working on meaningful tasks is low because you’re not giving them priority, the chances of creating a meaningful career are pretty slim.
9. Be realistic
The trick to finding a meaningful career is to celebrate the small wins. There’s no harm in having one big lofty goal, but treating it as such will mean you’re forever feeling like you’re not doing enough. Progress is ‘meaningful work’, and recognising progress will boost emotions, motivation and perceptions during your working day. Go beyond recognition to celebrate progress and you’ll quickly build your self-efficacy. This confidence is what allows you to get closer to your goals.
Why work meaningfully?
For many, work is work. It’s nothing more than something to support the many facets of life, be it raising a family, pursuing hobbies, or buying nice things. But if a third of your life is spent working, doesn’t it make sense to want something more from the experience?
Give the above tips a try and see where you end up. These simple tips could be a game-changer for your career and overall happiness.
If you’re looking for a career that matches your values, then it’s likely you’d want to align your super with your values, too. Make the switch to Cruelty Free Super, Australia's first vegan-friendly, ethical super fund. By switching to Cruelty Free Super you can say goodbye to companies that profit from the misery of other humans or animals, and hello to positive, ethical investments in industries like education, healthcare and clean energy. Join today.
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About the author: Noelle Greenwood
Noelle has been a passionate advocate for human rights since she walked her first 'walk against want' as a 10 year old. Her formative years were spent under her parent's wing in rallies, marches and kazoo-bands. All of this in the fairly conservative region of North Queensland, it's needless to say that activism is in her blood. As she's transitioned into making more conscious consumer choices across different aspects of her life, she's become more and more interested in the plight of creatures who are systematically harmed, exploited and killed for no good reason. Noelle likes to write about human rights, animal rights, climate change, feminism, indigenous issues, LGBTIQ issues, and generally anything that will spark a healthy argument with some of her right-wing acquaintances (the ones that are up for a healthy argument, anyway!).
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