How to make your work your spiritual practice

spirit

One of the biggest opportunities to feel a greater sense of meaning in your work, regardless of whether you love your job or loathe it, is to make work a spiritual practice.

A few weeks ago I posted about using time in traffic as a personal growth practice. The idea was that the time we spend behind the wheel is often a microcosm for a lot of the work we need to do on our life at large.

It’s the same at work. If we’re conscious and aware of the opportunities – and willing to work with them – work can be a powerful place of personal and spiritual growth.

Making your work your spiritual practice takes you out of the smallish perspective of me, me, me and creates an opportunity for your work, whatever that work is, to be about something greater.

Three caveats

Before I go any further, I want to be clear about three things.

First, I have no agenda as to what spirituality should mean for you. That’s 100% yours to define. My role here is to offer up some ways to start exploring and making this idea your own, not to give any definite opinion on what spirituality is or isn’t.

Second, none of what I’m going to describe here involves expressing your spiritual beliefs to any of your co-workers. You can use work as a powerful spiritual practice without anyone ever realizing it.

Finally, I encourage you to tailor this model to make it your own. Use the framework I offer here as a starting point, not a something set in stone. Take what works, leave what doesn’t, and add what’s missing.

A model for work as a spiritual practice

As I was preparing for this post, I spent a lot of time pondering what the pieces of the puzzle are when it comes to making your work a work as a spiritual practicespiritual practice. Yesterday, I distilled it into the following model.

My goal here is to give you a way to think about approaching work as a spiritual practice that you can customize to make it relevant to your own spiritual views and experience.

I will share more specific ways to apply and practice this in future posts, but first I want to outline the overall framework.

Your Spiritual Self

At the heart of the model lies what I think of as your Spiritual Self. This is something deeper than the chattering ego. It is the source of the “still small voice.” It is the place of deep peace.

You might call it the Self (with a capital S to distinguish it from the small-s self of the ego). You might think of it as soul. You might simply think of it as the space of Love and Peace you experience in the deep silence. You might think of it as the inner light.

It’s the place where you connect with God, or Spirit, or Source, or the Divine, or the Great-What-Is, or whatever way of thinking about it resonates with you.

Build your foundation

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not presenting this from the point of view of any particular dogma or belief system. Here’s where you make the model your own.

In this part of the model, you get clear on your own perspective. What are your spiritual beliefs? What does it mean to take those beliefs out of the intellectual and philosophical and actually live them? What are the spiritual principles you use to guide your actions and decisions?

This is an important piece of the puzzle, because it’s the foundation you’ll be standing on in all the rest of your efforts to make work your spiritual practice.

Presence

A vital aspect in treating work as a spiritual practice is staying present to what’s happening in the here and now. Only when you’re present and aware can you skillfully notice and take advantage of opportunities to make work your practice. And much of what takes us off the spiritual path is our ongoing immersion in non-now thoughts and responses.

Practice Points

As I ran through different ways that work can present opportunities for spiritual practice, I started to see several main “practice points.” The practice points are areas where opportunities both to practice your spirituality and to grow show up in abundance. .

People

Other people offer a big opportunity to embody your spiritual practice. Our interactions with others are where we shine, as well as where the work we still need to do is glaringly obvious.

The people around you provide an opportunity to practice love, compassion, patience, generosity, service, and a bazillion other concepts that align with what it means to live your spiritual beliefs. They also provide opportunities to see clearly where you’re out of alignment.

Your work

The work you do, how you do it, and the attitude you take towards it can also offer an opportunity for spiritual practice.

Change

If there’s anything that makes us ripe for spiritual growth, it’s change. Most of us have some degree of challenge navigating change. We resist it. We cling to the old way. Treating work as a spiritual practice encourages us to let go of that resistance.

The constant flow of change in the workplace, and in the world that those workplaces operate in, provide opportunity after opportunity to practice the peace of letting go.

Your ego-self

The thoughts and responses you encounter in your own mind as you go about your day can also be a prime point for spiritual practice. Where are they out of alignment? Where are they in alignment?

Problems

When it comes to opportunities for spiritual development, the problems you encounter are some of your biggest gifts. Problems offer the opportunity to ask, “How can I engage this more skillfully? How is this helping me grown in my spiritual practice?”

Far from being a monkey wrench in the works that gets in the way of “being spiritual,” problems are the path.

Reminders & Rituals

Finally, there are reminders and rituals you can integrate into your day. This might be something as simple as pausing to breath and focus when the phone rings, before you pick it up, or saying a silent blessing for whoever is on the other end. Or it could be starting the day off stating your intention to serve and work towards the highest good of all involved. Or a sticky note that just says, “Remember.”

Clearly this post is a picture of how to make your work your spiritual practice that barely scratches the surface. In future posts I will go deeper with specific ideas you can put into action.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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

An intentional focus makes work more meaningful

focus

You can have meaning coming out your ears at work, but if your attention is habitually focused on what’s negative, the amount you’ll actually be able to feel is limited.

In an earlier post in this series on making work more meaningful I encouraged you to stop looking for meaningful work and start looking for opportunities to experience meaning at work. One way to work with that idea is to intentionally direct your focus (similar to my post on energizing your work by changing your focus).

Broadly speaking, you can do this in two ways:

  • Look for the meaning points (the opportunities to experience meaning)
  • Eliminate any focus on the negative

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Focus on the meaning points

One way to focus on the meaning points is to regularly ask questions. Here is a list of questions to get you started. Some are pulled directly from the main categories of this series. Others are new additions.

  • What difference am I making here?
  • What difference could I make?
  • What am I grateful for today?
  • How am I growing? Where are the opportunities to grow?
  • Do I feel a meaningful connection with any of my co-workers? Could I cultivate one?
  • How is this helping me get where I want to go / achieve my goals?
  • What feels like a fulfilling challenge?

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Clearly this isn’t an exhaustive list of questions. What other questions would you ask to aim your attention at the meaning points in your work? Challenge yourself to add to this list. You might even want to put it somewhere you can see it at work as a reminder and add to the list as more questions pop into your head.

Eliminate the negative

While directing your focus to the meaning points is a huge piece of the puzzle, it’s also important to direct your attention away from the negative.

Focusing on what’s negative – what you don’t like, what irritates you, how you feel limited, who drives you nuts – not only drains your energy, it’s also a great way to ensure that the negative takes up a big chunk of your field of view. That both paints your world in less-than-flattering colors and reinforces that way of seeing things.

Some of it really is as simple as choosing to stop. A great place to start is any complaining you do. Just as an experiment, go on a complaining fast for the next week. Any time you catch yourself wanting to complain, don’t. See what you notice.

Shift the negative

Another way to take the negative out of the picture is to start shifting it to something more constructive, or at least more neutral. For example, if you find yourself feeling irritated with how a co-worker is doing things, you can stop and ask, “What is another way of looking at this? Even if I don’t like what they’re doing, what is their positive intention here?”

Or if there is a situation you find troublesome, you can ask, again, “What’s a different way of looking at this? Is there any positive her that I’m not seeing? How might I benefit from this (even if it’s just practice navigating difficult situations more gracefully)?”

Simple math

Ultimately what I’m talking about here is simple math. If you add more of what feels meaningful to what you choose to focus on, and subtract more of the negative that’s getting in the way, your experience is likely to feel more meaningful.

That’s especially true in the long run, because doing that over time wears a groove in your mind and creates a habit. As the habit develops, the meaningful and fulfilling view naturally expands to fill a larger portion of the screen.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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

Make work more meaningful: 11 ways to bring your heart to work

love ripples

If you want a simple way to experience more meaning in your work, there’s one super-simple way to do it without changing a thing about the job itself.

Love.

Yep. That’s it. Easy, right?

If putting those two words together caused your brain to wobble and bobble a bit, you’re not alone. Working and loving are two concepts that don’t automatically seem to go together in most people’s minds. You may even actively hold back from the idea of showing love at work. Love?? How unprofessional!

If that’s you, I can tell you that you’re missing a key piece of the meaningful work puzzle.

I would even go so far as to say that if you could do only one thing to bring a greater sense of meaning into your work, it would be this.

Bring your heart to work

At the center of the Wild About Work model is the idea of bringing your heart to work. That’s about showing up with love and compassion, both for yourself and for others.

In this post, I’m going to focus on love and compassion for others.

Bringing your heart to work is about opening the door to connection, to service, and to vulnerability. It’s about showing up in a way that lifts and supports the people around you. It’s about being willing to be real and authentic, and holding space for others to do the same.

Bringing your heart to work creates the potential for a deeper, richer experience that benefits both you and the people around you. Coming out from behind the armor and facade creates an opportunity for a depth of connection with both people and your experience that can never be had hiding behind a “professional” mask.

11 ways to love at work

There are a bazillion ways that love can show up in your work life. Here are a few examples.

1. Look for opportunities to help and support

Make it a habit to look for opportunities to help the people around you. Maybe it’s an official part of your job, leveraging your knowledge and skills in a way that has a positive impact on someone else’s job. Maybe it’s an unofficial role, like mentoring new hires. Or it could even be sharing knowledge and ideas with a co-worker around something in their life that has nothing to do with work.

2. Communicate healthily

How you communicate is one of the biggest ways to bring your heart to work. Does it open the door to connection and understanding, or does it feed conflict and divisiveness. Does it acknowledge the shared humanity of the other person, or does it make them an “other” to be dealt with? Does it encourage people to open up and fly, or shut down and protect themselves? Does it enable a healthy resolution of challenges, or does it pour fuel on them?

3. Express gratitude

Make it a point to sincerely thank people whenever the opportunity arises. This is a two-way street. The recipient gets the good feeling of being appreciated, and you get to bask in gratitude – a heart-based activity if ever there was one.

4. Acknowledge others

Along similar lines, sincerely acknowledging others’ efforts and achievements can be a way to work from the heart. It’s a validating and encouraging practice that requires little investment on your part, but has the potential to make a significant impact for the receiving party. And in the go-go, results-driven environment of today’s workplace, that kind of reinforcement is often all too infrequent.

5. Pay sincere compliments

Make it a habit to pay sincere compliments. That could be about something work-related, or something completely tangential to work, like their sweater, or a piece of art on their wall.

6. Be attentive

When was the last time someone was truly, 100% attentive to what you were saying? How did it feel? Good, I’m guessing.

Unfortunately, there is a chronic shortage of attentiveness in our culture. We’re incessantly listening in order to talk, rather than listening to understand. Conversations become self-absorbed tennis matches rather than opportunities to connect and comprehend.

Being 100% attentive when someone is talking is a way to love at work because it communicates, “You’re important. What you say matters. I’m listening.”

7. Be interested

This one is related to attentiveness. Here the opportunity is to get beyond the surface level volleys of conversation and listen at a deeper level. Stop and be fully present with the person you’re talking to. Ask them questions. Reflect what you hear and show that you get what they’re saying.

The idea here, again, is to send a message that, “Yes, you matter. You merit attention and interest.” In today’s short attention span culture, that message is often in short supply.

As an added bonus, asking questions and paying attention often shines a light on ways you can help people.

8. Be a source of positivity

How you show up adds to the collective experience in your workplace. You can either be one of the Gang o’ Grinches hanging out around the water cooler and bitching, or you can add a positive perspective to the mix.

You don’t have to be a naive Pollyana. Simply refraining from unnecessary negativity and focusing on what’s good can have a big impact, especially over time.

9. Show patience

We live in an impatient culture. Showing patience is a gift of love. Not only does it create more space for your interactions to unfold positively, it also reduces the negative impact of impatience-driven conflict.

10. Connect

You don’t work with co-workers. You work with people. Opening  yourself to connection with the people you work with takes you out of cogs-in-a-machine mode and creates the possibility of more meaningful experiences.

11. Facilitate connection

Just as connecting with other people is one way to bring your heart to work, facilitating connection between others is another. This might be as simple as instigating a regular lunch with the people you work with, or an after-work social hour. The more people see each other as people rather than roles and titles, the more potential love has to show up.

Putting it to work

That’s all nice and lovely, but unless you actually put some of those ideas into play, it will remain meaningless.

Try this: For the next week, do a bring-your-heart-to-work experiment. Look for opportunities to come from that heart space and do it.

Before you start, use the list of ideas above as a starting point to brainstorm specific ways you could bring your heart to work. The idea is to make it easier by creating a mental grab bag you can reach into and pull out heart-actions.

You might draw a heart on a sticky note and stick it by your desk as a reminder. Or set a timer to go off at intervals throughout the day as a reminder to stop and ask, “Where are the opportunities to come from the heart right now? What opportunities have I encountered today?”

Give it a shot and see how it feels. If you like it, try extending the experiment to 30 days.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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

Make work more meaningful with a learning plan

knowledge is power

In my last post in my series on how to make work more meaningful, I talked about what learning has to contribute to the mix.

If you want to make the most of its potential, try taking a more intentional approach by creating a learning plan. A learning plan explores four primary questions.

  1. What do I want to learn?
  2. Why do I want to learn it?
  3. Where are the opportunities to learn it?
  4. When do I want to learn it?

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What do I want to learn? 

To start with, try thinking about your learning from multiple angles.

From a present moment perspective, you can ask questions like:

  • What skills would help me do my job better?
  • What knowledge would make me more effective?
  • What personal development work would I benefit from?
  • What big goal / self-challenge am I focused on (or want to take on), and what do I need to learn in order to achieve it?
  • What do I want to master?

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You can also take a long-term view. One of the upcoming ways I’ll be writing on to make work more meaningful is to put it in the context of a big picture vision for what you want to achieve, who you want to be, what impact you want to make, etc. (See my post on finding your 10-year vision.)

When you have a 10-year vision to work towards, it opens up a different set of learning opportunities. Many of the questions you ask would be the same as for learning aimed at the here-and-now, but the focus would be different (e.g., what skills would help me achieve that vision?).

Even if your current job isn’t in alignment with that long-term vision, building a picture of the kind of learning that would support that vision can help you move towards it and give your current work a way to matter in the bigger picture

All functional purposes aside, it’s also worth looking at learning opportunities purely from a personal perspective. You can ask questions like:

  • What fascinates me?
  • What do I feel called to learn?
  • What inspires me?

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This might be something you can apply in your current job. It might be something that helps your long-term vision. Or it might be an area of personal development that allows you to feel better/be more flexible/navigate challenges/communicate better/etc.

Why do I want to learn it?

This will be largely taken care of in the process of exploring what you want to learn, but it’s worth specifically identifying it. Understanding the why of your learning program can help you both stay on track and apply it as your career evolves.

Where are the opportunities to learn it?

Think of these next two parts as developing a curriculum. Once you have your subjects mapped out (what you want to learn), you can explore how you’re going to learn it, and when.

Some possible learning sources include:

  • Work-sponsored workshops and training programs.
  • Mentors
  • Books and audiobooks
  • Talks by subject matter experts
  • Classes
  • Online videos
  • Podcasts

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You can start out by brainstorming and researching learning resources for each of the topics in “what you want to learn.” If your learning list is long, you can prioritize the topics and focus on the most immediate, most important, or most interesting ones first.

When do I want to learn it?

Once you have your preliminary list of learning resources (which you can continue adding to over time), you can tie it all together with this last part of the process.

You can do this as formally or informally as you want. You can give structure to your learning by mapping out what resources you want to work through in the next year and create a timeline. Or you can take a less timeline-driven approach, saying, “Here’s what’s in front of me. First I’m going to do this, then this, and then this.”

Bonus question: Who can I learn this with?

One final thought as you look at the possibilities for learning. Wherever you can, look for opportunities to learn with others.

Maybe that group aspect is inherent to the learning medium, like in a class.

Or maybe it’s something you create. Let’s say you’re interested in developing your management skills. You could instigate a weekly lunchtime book discussion group where each month you discuss a different book and how you can apply what you’re learning.

Or it could simply be a learning partner that you get together with on a regular basis and share some key insights that each of you has been learning.

Learning with others creates a way to engage around what you’re learning, as well as creating an external accountability.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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

 

Learning can make work more meaningful

learning

If you want to make work more meaningful, it’s a safe bet it’s not going to be the result of feeling mired down, stagnant, and stuck.

Learning is a portal to destagnifying your situation, growing, and opening doors to possibility, all key elements as you explore how to experience more meaning in your job.

How learning makes work matter

Remember the simple definition of meaningful work we’re using?

Meaningful work = work that matters (and you decide what matters).

There are two broad ways that learning contributes to a feeling of meaning at work. One is directly tied to the learning (either what you’re learning or the process of learning matters to you). The other is what that learning enables (e.g., working toward an outcome that matters to you, or expanding your potential to achieve). Often it’s both.

Learning contributes to making your work matter in a wide range of ways, including:

Freshness & rut avoidance

It’s a basic piece of human nature that when we start to feel bored and in a rut, our interest starts to drift. Learning is a way to keep injecting fresh knowledge, activities, and possibilities into the picture. What feels fresh and interesting is more likely to feel like it matters.

Possibility expansion

Learning opens doors to new possibilities. With new possibilities come both the potential for achievement, new things to find meaningful, and the freshness mentioned above.

Perspective expansion

Expanding your perspective opens your mind. It allows you to see a wider picture of the impact you make, helps you see more possibilities, and helps you see a more comprehensive picture of how things work (which in turn sets up the potential to see additional ways to help).

Expansion of your potential to help others

This one is simple. The more you know, the more tools you have in your toolkit. Those tools (skills, subject matter expertise, how-things-work, etc.) expand your potential to help others.

Sense of purpose

Especially when it is combined with a vision for where you want to go and why, learning helps you engage with a sense of purpose.

Development of your natural abilities

Work can feel like it matters when you’re using your natural gifts and abilities. Learning is a part of developing those.

Increased sense of control

Learning can give you knowledge and skills that allow you to perform and achieve. With that ability to perform and achieve can come a greater sense of personal control.

Increased focus on your personal interests

Learning is a way to invite more of what you find interesting and compelling into the picture.

Social connection

Finally, learning is often a social experience. It can facilitate a connection with your co-learners (e.g., if you’re taking a class), and surround you with others who share similar interests.

To illustrate how learning can support meaning, here are a handful of examples of some of the reasons work might matter, and how learning contributes to that.

Work matters when…

  • It stimulates you intellectually, creatively, or even physically: Learning can have a stimulating effect in and of itself. It also gives you more to work with and opens up new areas for exploration and action.
  • It is going somewhere you care about: When work is aimed at an outcome that matters to you, it contributes to a sense of meaning. Learning can give you more tools, insights, and skills to achieve your objectives.
  • It is keeping you interested and engaged. Work can feel like it matters when it’s fresh and interesting. Learning by definition injects a fresh newness into the picture.
  • It’s a fun challenge. Work can feel meaningful when it presents a fun challenge. Learning can both open the door to engaging in challenge and give you the means to navigate them.
  • It expands your skills and abilities. Work can matter because it helps you grow. Learning is an inherent component of expanding your skills and abilities.
  • It gives you results. Achievement can be a source of meaning in your work. Learning gives you more to work with as you aim for those results.

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In my next post, I’m going to look at how to take a more proactive and intentional approach to your learning to maximize your meaning at work. So stay tuned!

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
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How relationships can make work more meaningful

community circle

Up till now in this series of posts on how to make work more meaningful, I have focused primarily on making a difference. But meaningful work is a multi-dimension beastie. Today I want to look at another of those dimensions: relationships and community.

Opportunities to experience meaning

To put it in context, let’s take a quick peek back at my post defining meaning. In it, I said:

Meaningful work = Work that matters

And what makes work matter is unique to each individual.

In my last post in this series, I encouraged you to shift your perspective from “what difference does my work make,” to “what difference can I make while I’m at work?”

You can also apply that approach to meaning in general. Stop asking, “what is meaningful about my job” and start asking, “where are the opportunities to experience meaning while I’m at work?”

You’ll find some of those opportunities in relationships and a sense of community.

We humans evolved to be social critters. That means relationships are a vital part of how we thrive. Friendships at work can contribute to a sense of meaning in numerous ways, including:

Connection

At its most basic level, friendships at work offer an individual sense of connection.

It’s not rocket science how this might add meaning. Imagine being in a workplace filled with people whose interactions are superficial and shallow – enough to get the job done, but not bringing our shared humanity into the picture.

Now compare that with a workplace where there are at least some people you relate to on a deeper level. Where you know and care about your co-workers, and they know and care about you. What difference would that make?

If you had to stop and think, let me just fill you in. A lot! As Christine Riordan points out in her Harvard Business Review article, We All Need Friends at Work:

“Research shows that workers are happier in their jobs when they have friendships with co-workers. Employees report that when they have friends at work, their job is more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile, and satisfying. Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work.”

Camaraderie

What connection is to the individual, camaraderie is to the group. When there is a sense of camaraderie, there is a sense of belonging (a core human desire). Work is more fun, and people are more likely to like and trust each other, making collaboration and cooperation easier. There can be a shared sense of purpose.

Riordan elaborates on the impact of that camaraderie:

“Camaraderie is more than just having fun, though. It is also about creating a common sense of purpose and the mentality that we are in-it together…In short, camaraderie promotes a group loyalty that results in a shared commitment to and discipline toward the work. Camaraderie at work can create “esprit de corps,” which includes mutual respect, sense of identity, and admiration to push for hard work and outcomes.”

All of which lends itself to better work at both the individual and the team level (and as a bonus, you get a double-dose of meaning on that one, since achievement is another of the dimensions that can make work matter to you).

Commitment

A sense of meaning can come from feeling engaged and committed to something. And when people have good relationships at work, they’re more likely to feel more of that sense of commitment, both to their goals and the company’s.

That shows up in the Gallup study referenced above. It also shows up in a study in 2012 by the Society for Human Resource Management, which found that satisfaction with their relationships with co-workers was the number two factor influencing employees’ connection and commitment to the organization.

Support

This is related to the first two, but it’s worth calling out on its own.

Support comes into play both when things are challenging and when it’s time to celebrate a success. Having people who support you makes it easier to weather the challenges without feeling like you have to do it alone. And having people who will celebrate your successes along with you make those successes that much more noteworthy.

And the best part is, support is a two-way street. If someone is having a rough time and you’re there to support them, you get the benefit of feeling like you’re helping someone (remember the question, “What difference can I make while I’m at work?” This is one answer.). And when someone has had a success, you get the benefit of celebrating something positive.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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

The benefits of gratitude

thank you

In a recent post on Gratitude Breathing, I mentioned the wide-ranging benefits of gratitude. This post, The 31 benefits of gratitude you didn’t know about, is the best examination of “what’s in it for you” that I have come across.

If you only do a deep dive into one post this week make it this one. You’ll be amazed at gratitude’s research-backed superpowers.

Here are the top five benefits:

  1. Gratitude makes us happier.
  2. Gratitude makes people like us.
  3. Gratitude makes us healthier.
  4. Gratitude boosts our career.
  5. Gratitude strengthens our (positive) emotions.

Gratitude can literally change your life – without a thing changing externally. It touches all aspects of your life – mental, physical, even spiritual. It creates a positive lens through which to see the world, and shifts your focus to what’s good.

I won’t waste too many words talking about it here (a first!) because the post in the above link does such a fantastic job.

Enjoy!

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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

How to make work more meaningful by finding more ways to make a difference

meaningful work - make a difference

 

Want a simple way to open up a bucketload o’ possibilities for making work more meaningful? Shift your perspective from “what difference does my work make,” to “what difference can I make while I’m at work?”

The second question includes the first, but expands your perspective to encompass much more of the real impact you have to potential to make.

You can start by looking back at my most recent post in this series on how to experience more meaning in you your work: Make your work meaningful: Find the difference you’re already making. Go through each of the suggestions for identifying the impact you’re already having and ask, “OK, what else? How could I make more of the difference I’m already making? And what other difference could I make? ”

Another way to think about it is looking at various areas and asking, “How can I help?” For example:

  • How can I help my co-workers?
  • How can I help the customer/client/end-user?
  • How can I help our partners?
  • How can I help the organization?
  • What greater-good effort can I initiate or support? (OK, that doesn’t start with “how can I help,” but you get the idea.)

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Over time, asking what difference you can make while you’re at work can become a habitual question. Until then, you’ll find some ideas below to help you start exploring.

Helping your co-workers

At an individual level, start asking the simple question, “Whose life can I make better with my work, and how?”

You could make it a goal to find ways to do that every day. You might even decide that from a meaning perspective the content of your job is secondary, and that your real role is to make people’s lives better in whatever way you can.

The ways you can make your co-workers lives better are endless. Some are directly the result of the work you do, others have nothing to do with your specific role.

Let’s start off with the role-specific exploration. How can the job you do (and how you do it) make life better for your co-workers?

Take a look at the individual people/roles that your work touches directly. This might be downstream (people who use or benefit from the work you do), upstream (people whose work is input for your work), or “sidestream,” (people not directly in your work flow who you still interact with in your job). Make a list.

Once you have the list, start asking questions. Broadly put, you can think of finding a difference to make as either adding a positive or eliminating a negative.

Here is a brief, far-from-exhaustive list of questions to get you started.

Adding positives

  • Can I make this person’s job easier?
  • Can I make this person’s job more efficient effective?
  • Can I help this person do their job more quickly?
  • Can how I do my work solve any problems this person has in their work?
  • How can how I interact with this person make their life better? (e.g., positive, supportive, communicative, etc.)

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Removing negatives

  • Does my work present any obstacles for them (e.g., a bottleneck, lack of communication, etc.)? What can I do to remove those?
  • Does how I interact with them create frustration or friction? What can I change about that?
  • What problems do they have? Can I help solve any of them?
  • How can I make this person’s work less frustrating?

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How you show up

Think of the most positive, uplifting person you have ever worked with. Now think of the most negative, pain-in-the-ass person you have worked with. What impact did each of those people had on your everyday experience of work?

There’s an enormous opportunity to make a difference in your work simply by how you show up. Are you positive? Are you supportive? Do you acknowledge people’s work? Are you free with your sincere compliments?

How you show up and the impact that has on the people around you is one of the biggest areas of potential impact because a) it’s happening the entire time you’re at work and, b) it’s one of the few things you have complete control over.

Helping people outside your organization

Beyond your co-workers, you can look outside the organization for how you make an impact. Two common constituencies here are customers/clients and business partners.

The exploration process is the same as for your co-workers. How can you make things better for them or remove something that’s not-so-hot?

Helping the organization

Keep your eyes open for opportunities to help the organization move towards its goals. These might be directly the result of your work, or it could be coming up with ideas the organization can implement to, for example:

  • Make money
  • Save money
  • Serve the customer better
  • Do things more efficiently
  • Foster a positive and productive culture

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Again, the list is practically endless. Some things you might implement yourself. Other things you might be a catalyst for.

Supporting greater-good efforts

Keep your eyes open for opportunities to either instigate or support projects and programs that make a difference beyond the organization. For example:

  • Get involved in your organizations volunteer program, if it has one.
  • If it doesn’t have one, be a catalyst for creating one.
  • Start a sustainability program.
  • Organize a food drive.
  • Get your co-workers to bring surplus food from their gardens and deliver it to homeless shelters, food banks, etc.

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Ultimately, you can create an opportunity to feel more meaning in your work by seeing your job less as a monolithic source of meaning (that comes from the end difference you make) and more as a playing field where you’ll find many different opportunities to have a positive impact.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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

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

 

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