Make your work meaningful: Find the difference you’re already making

 

meaningful work - the difference you already make

Do you make a difference at work?

One of the key pieces of the meaning puzzle is the feeling that we’re making a difference. And while some people are fortunate enough to have the difference they make in their work as a clear and integral part of the job description (e.g., a teacher, or a firefighter, or a therapist), for others it’s not so obvious.

If you fall into the latter category, fear not, buckaroo! There are more ways we can make a difference than the obvious outcome. And as luck would have it, that’s what I’m going to explore in this post.

In a nutshell, this post in my series about making work meaningful is about identifying the difference you’re already making so you can focus more of your attention on it. What you pay attention to plays a big role in shaping your experience.

Start out by taking a look at different potential areas of positive impact. Two great places to start exploring are:

  • The outcome of your work
  • Your impact on the people around you.
    .

The outcome of your work

First things first, take a look at the outcome of the work you do. It can help to look at it from several different angles.

Direct impact

Let’s start with the simplest and most obvious. What direct difference does your work make? What is different as a result of your work?

Who your job helps (directly or indirectly)

Another way to look at the impact your job has is who it helps. Does it help an end user or customer directly? Does it help someone else in your organization do their job better, more effectively, or more easily? Is it a component that someone else builds on?

If you’re in a leadership role, part of the outcome of your work is how your reports experience and perform in their jobs. Does your leadership have a positive impact on the people who work for you?

Expanding the scope of how you look at making a difference, does your job help anyone indirectly (e.g., does it help someone help someone else)?

What your job enables

Yet another angle on the difference your job makes is exploring what it enables. We already saw some of this show up in the exploration of “who your job helps.”

Does your job create anything that is used toward a final outcome? Is it an important piece of a bigger puzzle? Does it support an effective flow? Does it create connections between people that enable better communication or more opportunities?

People

The impact you have on the people around you can be an enormous part of the difference you make in your work, whether or not it comes from your official job duties. Some areas to explore include:

Helping people

How do you help people? In addition to the job-specific ways discussed above, are there ways you play a helping role? Are you a mentor (formal or informal)? Are you good at helping people solve problems (whether work-related or not)? Do people know they have an open and compassionate ear with you? Do you have an intuitive understanding of how to navigate the company culture that lets you give people advice?

If you’re in a leadership role, how do you help the people who work for you? Do you empower and enable? How? What is the result of that?

Interaction

Some of the difference you make might simply be from the way you interact with people. Do you have a generally positive outlook in your interactions? Do you try to leave people feeling better than you found them (even if they were feeling good to begin with)? Do you show an interest in people? Do you make it a habit to share compliments and positive observations? Do you contribute to a positive environment to work in?

If you interact directly with the people your organization serves, does your interaction contribute to a positive experience for them?

Inspiration & motivation

Do you leave people feeling inspired or motivated? Do you help people see a bigger vision and believe in themselves?

Role model

Sometimes the difference you make in people’s lives doesn’t come from the advice you give or the problems you solve. It comes from the way you show up. Are you a role model? Maybe it’s a model for effectiveness and productivity. Or possibly you model positive problem-solving. Or it might be the fact that you show up with a determination to work through the challenges while seeing the good in people. People might see something to aspire to in the results you get and the goals you achieve.

How do you show up that might be a role model for others?

Community-building

Some people are natural community builders. Do you reach out and find ways to bring people together? Do you create opportunities for people to connect?

Putting it to use

That’s not a complete, exhaustive list of possible ways you might be making a difference at work, but it’s a good start. Once you have your initial list of ways you’re already making a difference, it’s time to put it to use.

Notice: Part of the value of making a list of ways you’re making a difference is that it makes it easier to notice them. Each day, pay attention to the things in your list are showing up. Use it as a way to start directing your attention to the positive impact you have.

The more of your attention that occupies, the more it colors your experience. Not only that, when you make a concerted effort to notice the difference you’re making on a regular basis, you start to notice more. It’s a virtuous cycle.

Savor: It’s not enough to just notice the difference you’re making. Take the time to let it land. Stop and savor it. Let it soak in. The brain is wired to absorb the negative much more readily than the positive, so it takes extra effort to get the full benefits of positive experiences.

Once you take stock of the difference you’re already making, the next step is to explore more possibilities to make a difference (which, by some miraculous coincidence, is the topic of my next post!).

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

20 questions to help you make work meaningful

meaningful work

Much as I would like to offer it, there is no one-size-fits-all prescription for finding meaning in your work. Meaning is a custom job. What feels deeply meaningful to you might feel just so-so to your neighbor.

The goal of this series of posts on making work meaningful is to help you consciously, purposefully find a greater sense of meaning in your work. I want to help you take an intentional approach to building meaning into your career, rather than just guessing or lucking into it.

Since what feels meaningful is such a unique and individual thing, it stands to reason that the first and possibly most important thing is understanding where meaning comes from for you.

Rather than leaving you staring at a blank canvas in a mild state of panic (“How the hell do I know??? They never taught me that in school!!”), I’m kicking off the series with some questions to prime the pump on your personal exploration of meaning.

There is a bucketload of questions here. Don’t overwhelm yourself by feeling like you need to answer all of them (and possibly not answer any of them). Just scan through and see which ones catch your eye and start from there.

  1. What does meaning mean to me? (You can start out with this post offering a definition of meaning and build your own from there.)
  2. What feels meaningful to me? Why? (Just make a laundry list to start with – you can sort through it later to find the key themes.)
  3. If I could wave my magic wand and create a path chock full o’ meaning, what would I be doing? Why?
  4. What do I care about in my work? Why?
  5. What do I care about in my life? Why?
  6. If I could make one difference in my job, what would it be? Why?
  7. If I could make one difference in my life, what would it be? Why?
  8. Are there specific areas of focus that feel most meaningful to me? (e.g., social justice, environmental issues, helping people thrive.) Why do they feel so meaningful?
  9. Whom or what does it feel compelling to help? Why?
  10. What is more important to me than anything else in my career? If I could only pick one thing as my central focus, what would it be? Why?
  11. What is more important to me than anything else in my life? If I could only pick one thing as my central focus, what would it be? Why?
  12. If I didn’t get paid in money, but in the feeling I get from the impact my work makes, what would I do? What impact/difference would feel most compelling? Why?
  13. What, if any, meaning do I get from relationships and connection with others? What kinds of relationships and connections feel meaningful? Why?
  14. What kinds of interactions with others feel meaningful? Why?
  15. What is my current why? (Why do I do what I do? Why does it matter?)
  16. What is my ideal why? (If I had my ideal job, why would I do what I do? Why would it matter?)
  17. What do I value? Why?
  18. When do I feel most alive? Why?
  19. What lights me up? Why? (Check out this post to help you find your energizers.)
  20. When am I most motivated? Why?

You’ll notice that each of those is followed by, “Why?” Asking why is one of the best ways to unpack what’s there and get a deeper insight into what your initial answers mean.

Don’t expect to be able to come up with a crisp, clean picture of what meaning means to you. Think of it as sculpting your awareness out of clay. The first thing you need to do is get a lump of clay to start shaping. That’s what you’re doing with the initial exploration.

From there, you can continue exploring and refining. You can also use your everyday life as a learning laboratory, continually asking, “What feels meaningful here? Where does meaning feel like it’s missing? Why?”

Bit by bit, you’ll create a more deeper understanding of your own personal version of meaning. And the more clarity you have, the more potential you have to recognize both how it already exists and opportunities to bring more into your life.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

 

How to make your work more meaningful (even when it isn’t)

dancing figures

Does your work feel meaningful? Would you like it to feel more meaningful?

The goal of this blog is to help people create energized, impactful, heart-based careers. One big piece of that puzzle is making work meaningful. But how?

Recently I wrote a series of posts looking at how to feel more juice in your job. Today, I’m starting a series looking at how to weave a greater sense of meaning into both your job and your entire career (and with a little luck, into your life overall as well).

This is the main page for the series. Over the next couple weeks I will be writing more extensively about the ideas below and adding links in the relevant sections.

What is meaning?

In my last post, I offered this simple definition of meaningful work:

Meaningful work = Work that matters

What makes that work matter could be personal (energizing, growth-inducing, inspiring), interpersonal (relationships and community), or focused on a benefit beyond yourself.

In the posts in this series (which I will add links to as I write them), I will explore different ways to bring more of what matters into your work to create a greater feeling of meaning.

So let’s dive in!

Know thyself: Practice the art of self-awareness

Yeah, I know, I’m a bit of a broken record on this one. This is where I always start. And there’s a good reason for that. The more you know about what makes you tick, what you respond to, what feels meaningful, what feels compelling, the better equipped you are to both recognize and actively seek out opportunities to incorporate more of that into the picture.

Awareness empowers. Without that self-awareness, the only way to develop more meaning in your work is to luck into it.

[Get started with 20 questions to help you make your work more meaningful.]

Know thy world: Practice the art of external awareness

Here again, awareness empowers. The more aware you are of the possibilities that surround you for experiencing more meaning, the more potential you have to integrate it into your work life.

Make it a habit of doing a 360-degree scan in your work to look for opportunities to make more meaning. You can use the areas below to guide your scan.

Find the difference you’re making

When people talk about wanting to experience more meaning in their work, they’re often talking about wanting to make more of a difference.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably already making some kind of difference. In this step, you identify all the ways you can think of where your work has some kind of impact, whether direct or facilitated (where your work allows someone else to make a difference).

[Get started with find the difference you’re already making.]

Find a difference to make

Once you take stock of the difference you’re already making, you can start looking for opportunities to make more of a difference. This might be part of your job, tasks and projects you take on that aren’t directly related to your job (like spearheading an office recycling program), or it might be simply through how you show up at work.

[Get started with finding more ways to make a difference.]

[Energize your work by making a personally meaningful difference.]

Cultivate relationships & community

Don’t underestimate the power of relationships and community to create a sense of meaning. Humans evolved as social critters. The connection we feel with the people around us can feel deeply meaningful.

As I mentioned earlier, my focus is on helping people create energized, impactful, heart-based careers (and lives). It’s in our interactions with other people that some of the biggest opportunities to bring our hearts to work appear.

[See how relationships can make work more meaningful.]

[Try these 11 ways to bring your heart to work.]

Look for learning & growth

Another potential source of meaning is the opportunity for learning and growth your job present. Whether that is about adding more tools to your toolkit in pursuit of a longer-term goal, stretching and challenging yourself, or reaching for mastery, learning and growth can add a fulfilling dimension to your work.

[Check out how learning can make work more meaningful.]

[Discover how to make work more meaningful with a learning plan.]

Put it in the context of a big picture vision

As I’ve described before, I like seeing things in the context of a 10-year vision. Regardless of the specifics of your current job, what is your vision for the next ten years?

Having a bigger picture context takes you out of the micro-view of the present moment and gives it a bigger perspective. Even if your current job is a complete and utter grind with few redeeming qualities, it can be meaningful as a step toward that bigger picture vision (through the knowledge and skills you’re developing, the money that is allowing you to meet your needs while you work on the side toward the vision, etc.).

[Learn how a 10-year vision makes work more meaningful.]

Shape your perspective

Part of making more meaning in your work is simply choosing to focus on more of what feels meaningful. This is about selective focus, choosing to strengthen the attention you pay to what feels positive, rewarding, and enriching and loosen your attachment to focusing on what you don’t like.

[Find out how an intentional focus makes work more meaningful.]

Make work your spiritual practice

If there is a spiritual aspect to how you experience the world, this represents an enormous reservoir of potential meaning. Imagine using your work as your spiritual practice. How many opportunities do you have any given day to practice aligning yourself more closely to your path?

One of the richest and most interesting conversations I sometimes have with clients is some variation on the theme, “How do I live my faith (or my spirituality, or my values)?” It’s in the day-to-day action of the real world that those things lose their abstractness and gain substance and solidity.

Here again, the opportunities to think in terms of bringing your heart to work are endless.

[Explore how to make your work your spiritual practice.]

[Learn 10 ways you can make work a spiritual practice.]

Authentic expression

Feeling in the groove of who you really are can add a significant sense of meaning to your work. The first step towards this is the first item in this list – developing self-awareness.

At its best, work can be a vehicle for showing up in the way that lets you thrive, tapping into what energizes and inspires you and allowing you to use your inherent gifts and abilities.

Even when your work feels out of synch with an authentic expression of who you are, it can have value as a learning laboratory to help you better understand where your sweet spot actually is.

[You can start by identifying your energizers.]

[Explore more on how to align what you do with who you are.]

Find the meaning – all day, every day

I don’t know that I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that whatever happens, we can find value if we’re willing to look.

Whether what you are experiencing is positive, negative, or neutral, there is potential to find meaning in the events and activities of your day, all day and every day.

Maybe the meaning is what you learned. Maybe it’s an opportunity to practice cultivating a virtue you desire (e.g., patience). Maybe it is the opportunity to interact from the heart in what doesn’t feel like a heartful situation.

Whatever it is, planting the question, “Where is the meaning here?” and asking it continually will open the door to meaning ever wider.

[Ask 19 questions to find more meaning in your work.]

Recognize work as a facilitator

Finally, you can find meaning in what your work facilitates – even the mundane things. Does it allow you to feed your family? Does it meet a need for social connection? Does it create the financial space for you to be able to move toward your longer-term vision?

As you look at all these options, I encourage you to jettison any black-and-white thinking about having meaning vs. not having meaning. Look at it as more of a continuum. The more opportunities for meaning you explore and cultivate, the further on the spectrum you shift towards meaningful work.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

What makes work meaningful?

meaningful work

What gives your work a sense of meaning?

I’m about to start a series of posts aimed at finding meaning in your work (update – here’s the main post). Before I do, I want to explore this idea of meaning, which can be a tad slippery and ambiguous. Ask any ten people what meaning means, and you’ll probably get ten different answers. There is no pat, standard definition.

One way to think about finding meaning is answering the question, “Why does this matter?” Why does this matter to you? Why does this matter to others? Why does this matter to your company? Why does this matter to society? Why does this matter to nature?

As you explore the answer to that question, don’t fall into the trap of believing that meaning only comes from being Captain Save-the-Planet. Making a difference can certainly be a source of meaning, but it’s not the only one.

What matters might be the joy you get from the work you do. It might be the sense of connection you get with others. It might be the learning and growth that comes from it.

If you want a short, handy-dandy definition, it’s this:

Meaningful work = Work that matters

And what, you may well be wondering, makes work matter? I’m glad you asked.

What makes work matter?

What makes that work matter can fall into several broad categories, including:

Personal

This could be doing work that energizes you and makes you feel alive. It could be work that challenges you and helps you constantly learn and grow. It could be working in a specific area that matters deeply to you (e.g., health care, or working with at-risk youth). It could be making work an expression of your spirituality or values, whether through what you do or how you do it.

Interpersonal

Simply put, this is about relationships and connection. It might be directly related to the work you do, or it might be the friendship and community you experience overall in your work.

Benefit beyond you

This is what people typically think about when think about meaningful work. It’s about making a difference. Creating a benefit for something beyond you and your immediate little world.

This isn’t just about being a stereotypical do-gooder (though it might be, if that’s your authentic path). It might just as well be about benefiting the people you work with, or your employer, or the market you serve.

Make your personal definition of meaning

So there you have it. A simple way to think about what makes work meaningful. It’s not THE definition of meaningful work (there are a million ways to slice that one), but it’s a functional one that offers a framework for consciously making meaning a part of your career.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it on for size. See if it resonates. If something is missing, add it. If something is there that doesn’t work for you, give it the heave ho.

Ultimately, what feels meaningful for you isn’t mine to define. It’s a unique and individual thing. Treat this post as a starting point as you set out to discover both your personal definition of meaning and how to incorporate that into your career.

In the coming posts I’ll be doing a deep dive into a variety of ways to bring more of a sense of meaning into your work. Stay tuned!

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Improve your life with Gratitude Breathing

heart breath

Of all the things you can do to shift your perception in life, gratitude is one of the most powerful. Developing your sense of gratitude has been shown to have a wide range of benefits, both mental (like a greater sense of well-being, and more emotional resilience) and physical (like a stronger immune system).

This morning I added a post to my Job Search Stress Busters blog (a blog I created as a public service because it’s sorely needed) about something I have explored over the last few months I call Gratitude Breathing. It has had such a positive impact on me, I feel compelled to share it here as well.

As I have often mentioned, getting Wild About Work isn’t just about finding work you love. It’s also about expanding your capacity to experience the positive. Gratitude Breathing is an excellent practice to develop that capacity.

Here’s the post in its entirety:

A while back I wrote a post about Attitude Breathing, a technique that builds on “heart breathing,” as described in HeartMath’s Quick Coherence Technique.

In Attitude breathing, you imagine you’re breathing in and out of your heart. As you do, you focus on a positive feeling or attitude.

A few months ago, riffing off of the Attitude Breathing idea, I started playing with what I describe as Gratitude Breathing. Built around heart breathing, it incorporates an interactive focus on what you’re thankful for.

Interactive?

Here’s what I mean. Instead of just feeling grateful, I also incorporate an active receptiveness to the gift of what I’m grateful for.

So let’s say I’m grateful for this cup of coffee I’m drinking. (which I am!). Here’s how I would approach Gratitude Breathing.

  1. I start focusing on my heart as I breathe. I imagine the breath is coming into and out of my heart.
  2. I focus on the object of my gratitude (in this case, my coffee).
  3. As I breathe in, I think, “Breathing in the gift.” This is a way to open myself to actively, intentionally open myself to taking in the experience of what I’m grateful for being a gift in my life.
  4. As I breathe out, I think, “Breathing out my gratitude.” I imagine myself surrounding the object of my appreciation in a cloud/bubble/field of gratitude.
  5. Breathing in, it starts all over.

.
I find this has the effect of both grounding me and deepening my feeling of gratitude.

The objects of your gratitude can be small (like my coffee) or big (like a deeply loving family). The beauty of this is that it really doesn’t matter. The more you actively engage in gratitude, the more it filters into your overall outlook on life (which has a big picture stress reduction effect as well).

Give it a try. Experiment with it for a week. See how it feels.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide