How to be happier at work by making a difference

Over the last few weeks I have been facilitating a coaching group focused on how to feel more energized and alive in your here-and-now at work. In the last session today, we’re focusing in part on how to amplify your feeling of making a difference at work.

Numerous studies have shown that feeling like your work has a positive impact on others improves both satisfaction and productivity. People who engage in giving and being of service to others report feeling more engaged, more motivated, and happier.

Make it your mission to make a difference

First, let’s look at a mindset that can set the stage for all the ideas mentioned below. Rather than just seeing your work in the context of your job description – what you get paid to do – think about the time you spend at work as a vehicle for having a positive impact.

Make it your mission to make a difference. Some of that will be directly related to your job. Other aspects will have no direct connection to the work you do.

Every day is packed with opportunities to make the world a bit better, to help people, to make an impact. Try making an experiment out of noticing and acting on those opportunities. Make it your focus for 30 days, and see what happens.

Recognize the positive impact of your work

Regardless of what your job is, someone, somewhere benefits from the work you do. That might be the end user of your organization’s product or service, or it might be someone within your organization.

Start by taking a look at how your work makes a difference, even in small ways. Does it make someone’s life easier? Does it give a co-worker the information they need to do their job? Does it prevent chaos from taking over?

If possible, connect with the person or people who benefit from your work. Make it personal.

Acknowledge and recognize

One of the easiest and most ubiquitous opportunities to make a difference is through acknowledgment and recognition. You don’t have to be in a position of authority to give recognition. Simply acknowledge people’s contribution. Give someone heartfelt thanks. Look for ways to help people feel valued. Write a gratitude note.

This has several benefits. First, it makes the people around you feel good (who doesn’t love to feel acknowledged?). Second, it feels good to do. And third, the more you notice what’s good about people and express it, the more of that you see.

Share knowledge

Look for opportunities to share your knowledge. It might be mentoring someone at an earlier stage of their career to help them navigate the path and thrive. It might be a particular skill you have that would be beneficial (e.g., how to communicate effectively). Or it might be helping new hires learn the ropes.

Start making a list of what you know that people might find beneficial. Look for opportunities to share it.

Generate and implement ideas

Be on the constant lookout for ways to make things better. That might entail bottom line driven ideas like how to save money or make money, or it could simply be ideas for how to improve the quality of life on the job for the people you work with.

Ask why, and ask it often. Question the status quo. Make it a habit to brainstorm ideas for positive change, challenging yourself to come up with at least one idea a day.

Cultivate community and connection

One way to make work a better place is to help cultivate a sense of community. Wherever you are on the org chart, you can contribute to this. It might be as simple as initiating regular lunch gatherings with the people you work with. If you are in a position of authority, it might involve more formal efforts like team building.

You can also foster that sense of community at the individual level. Start with your immediate work team. Get personal. Be curious. Ask questions. Get to know who they are behind the title on their business card.

Show you care. Bring a personal touch, acknowledging birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Support someone if you know they are having a challenging time, even if it’s as simple as giving them a card.

Share resources. Give recommendations for books to read that had a positive impact on you. Better yet, give someone an actual copy of the book.

Be the change

Ask yourself, “What kind of workplace do I want to experience?” Then make it your mission to embody that. How can you contribute to the environment you want to experience? Some examples of how you can “be the change” include:

  • Look for opportunities for acts of kindness.
  • Be a role model for positive attitude.
  • Refuse to join in on the negative (i.e., bitch-n-moan), and when possible, defuse it when others do.
  • Focus on what’s possible. Be a voice for possibility.

Many of the ideas discussed in some of the other categories above can fall into this category as well.

Look for opportunities to help and serve

Make it a habit to ask the simple question, “How can I help?” Try to make the helping and serving its own reward, rather than looking for acknowledgment.

That might be pitching in to help someone meet a deadline (keeping in mind that you need to take care of your own work balance). Or it might be noticing something that needs to be done (like cleaning the counter in the office kitchen, or making another pot of coffee).

Parting thought

When you make it your mission to make a difference at work, you create a whole new way of thinking about what you’re there to do. Yes, you’ll still do the things that you get paid for. But it also opens up a new way of thinking about what you’re there to do.

The bus driver whose goal is to make passengers smile. The CEO who sees one of her primary objectives as helping her employees thrive. The junior high school janitor who sees the purpose of his work as ensuring a clean environment for students to learn in.

It’s almost as though you are creating a second, parallel role for yourself, one built around a focus that research shows helps you feel more engaged, motivated, and happy.

Make it your mission to make a difference, and see how it feels.

19 questions to find more meaning in your work

find meaning at work

In this series on making work meaningful, I have explored many facets of how to create a greater sense of meaning in your work. I wrote a lot of words in the process, but in a way it all boils down to three simple words you can use as your guide:

Find the meaning.

Yep. That’s it. Any given workday is packed with opportunities to find the meaning. Sometimes it will be glaringly obvious, like the positive impact your work is having. Other times you’ll need to do a little excavating, finding the diamonds in the midst of the muck.

Meaning excavation questions

The mighty question mark is an excellent excavation tool. Below, you’ll find a number of questions you can ask on a regular basis to help you uncover those gems. You might pick a few and make that the foundation for a daily quick-scan. Or you might choose one a week and focus on noticing as much as you can every day.

For those who are feeling particularly cynical, it can be tempting to meet some questions, like “why does this matter,” with a roll of eyes and say, “it doesn’t.” For the sake of finding the meaning, I encourage you to notice any response like that, let it go, and focus on finding the positive.

And now, on to the excavation! You can ask any of these questions before your day starts to help set the stage for noticing, during the day, or at the end of the day as a way to look back and review.

What feels meaningful about this?

Why does this matter?

What difference does what I’m doing make?

What am I learning here? What could I learn here?

How is this work giving me an opportunity to grow?

How is this problem/difficulty giving me an opportunity to grow?

How can I approach my work with mastery and excellence in mind?

How can I come from a space of love today?

How can I bring my heart to work today?

Where are the opportunities to serve?

How can what I’m experiencing lead me towards my long-term vision?

What aspects of my work do I value?

Where do I feel connection in my work (with other people, with my work, with the outcome, with something greater than myself, etc.)?

How does my work align with who I am? Where are the opportunities to make it align more closely?

How can I have a positive impact on the people around me?

How can my work be an expression of my spirituality? How can it help me grow spiritually?

How can my interactions be an expression of my spirituality? How can they help me grow spiritually?

How can the way I engage problems be an expression of my spirituality? How can it help me grow spiritually?

What in my life is this work enabling? (e.g., supporting your family, giving you the money to contribute financially to causes you care about, etc.)

Explore why it matters

If you go back to the definition of meaningful work we’re using here – “Work that matters (and you decide what matters!)” – a follow-up question to the answers of each of these might be, “And why does that matter?”

The goal of that question is to help you build a deeper picture of what matters to you, and why.

The more you understand that, the more you can both recognize opportunities to incorporate more of it into your work and be aware of it when it’s there. The more you are aware of what matters, the more of what matters you consciously experience.

And the more of what matters you experience, the more meaningful work becomes.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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

Make work meaningful by aligning what you do with who you are

you target

Think back to a time when you felt in the groove, a time when whatever you were doing opened the door to a state of flow where you naturally immerse yourself and feel energized.

Now put that in the context of the definition of meaningful work we’re using in this series on how to make work more meaningful:

Meaningful work = Work that matters (and you decide what matters!)

Do you think work that lets you flow in that groove might feel like it matters? (Hint: I’m thinkin’ yes.) In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at how do that.

How to align what you do with who you are

As I described in the post on finding your energizers, my definition of passion is “the energy that comes from bringing more of YOU into what you do.” It’s the definition I have used for the last thirteen years in my Passion Catalyst work as a foundation for helping people create careers that light them up.

In a nutshell, you experience passion when the work you do aligns with who you are – when your work becomes an authentic expression of self.

How do you align what you do with who you are? A great place to start is the exercise I discuss in that post about finding your energizers, taking a look at what you love and digging into why you love it, identifying the underlying themes (reasons why) that tend to be there when you’re energized.

When you understand the underlying reasons why you love what you love, you can consciously look for opportunities to experience them. That might be through something big and life-altering, like a career change, or it might be through something small, like recognizing an opportunity to experience them in a project, or even simply in how you approach your work.

Ultimately, it’s about having a solid self-awareness of “who you are” so you can recognize opportunities to align what you do with that.

Start with self-exploration questions

There is no end of ways to gain a deeper understanding of what makes you tick. Here are ten more questions to get you started. You can unpack more insight from most of them by following the answer up with asking, “Why?”

  • What am I doing when I’m in that groove? (Why am I in my groove then? What is it about that that lets that flow happen?)
  • What am I doing when I”m at my best? (Why am I at my best then?)
  • What are my innate gifts? What do I naturally do well? (Why? What allows me to do that so well?)
  • What do I feel called to do? (Why? What is it about that that is compelling?)
  • What would I do even if I didn’t get paid for it? (Why? What would I get out of it?)
  • How do I work best? (Why? What is it about that way of working that allows my best to come out?)
  • What do I dislike at work? If I could change that, what would the ideal be? (Why? What is it about that that would make it ideal?)

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The more you understand about what makes you tick and how you naturally thrive, the more potential you have to make choices and take actions that align what you do with who you are.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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

10 ways you can make work a spiritual practice

work as a spiritual practice

In my most recent post in my series on how to make work more meaningful, I outlined a framework for making your work a spiritual practice. That’s all well and good, but how about taking the idea out of the conceptual world and into the world we all live in? How, specifically, do you make your work a spiritual practice?

The answer to that could fill a book, but here are ten practice areas to get you started. Each of these merits a post (or more) of its own, but for now let’s get started with this overview.

10 ways to make your work a spiritual practice

Love: Imagine love – deep, accepting, unconditional love – as a character in a play. Now look at your experience at work through the eyes of that character. How would love see this challenging situation? How would love see this opportunity? What action would love take? What would love say? How would love hear what this person is saying?

Looking through the lens of love is a way to shift your perspective, stepping away of the small and restrictive stories we layer onto our experience and into a more expansive heartspace.

Note that coming from a space of love doesn’t necessarily mean a non-stop hippie ride of peace, love, and understanding (though that can certainly be a part of it). And it definitely doesn’t mean you’re a weak pushover. Sometimes it means making the tough choices and doing what’s hard (like firing a flailing employee who is a poor fit for a job), but coming from a place of love.

Compassion: On a related note, you can look through the lens of compassion and let that guide your actions and words. And that’s not just for people who are obviously hurting. It’s also for people who are angry, or irritating, or confrontational. You can use any of those instances as an opportunity to step back and say, for example, “This person wants the same thing I do. They want to be happy. It must hurt to be angry like that.”

Looking through the lens of compassion recognizes a deeper underlying humanity and desire for happiness that we all share and helps you not get sucked into the reactive story.

Compassion is also internally directed practice, showing the same compassion for yourself that you aspire to show others. In fact, I would go so far as to say compassion for yourself is a vital piece of being able consistently come from a place of compassion for others.

Service: This is simple and straightforward. It’s about both looking for opportunities to serve and to help and recognizing how you already are. It’s about stepping out of me, me, me and focusing on how you can benefit the world around you. It can be about both the intention to come from a place of service and the actual action.

Mindfulness: There’s not a second of your work day that doesn’t bring with it the potential to practice mindfulness. Whether you’re in a meeting, helping a customer, answering e-mail, or in heated negotiations, the time is ripe for coming back to the present moment.

Letting go: How many times during the course of a day do you have the opportunity to let go? To let go of the illusion that you’re in control? To let go of your expectations? To let go of your attachment to things being a certain way?

Patience: Impatience pulls you out of the present moment. Worse, it replaces the present moment with resistance and struggle against what is. You can’t feel peace and impatience at the same time. Where are the opportunities in your work day to practice patience?

Connection: Many people spend their lives isolated in the middle of the crowd. This can be especially true at work where so many are wearing their “professional face” and staying one step removed from showing up authentically.

Connection opens the door to caring. It opens the door to recognizing an underlying commonality we all share. And a connection that goes beyond the superficial requires openness, authenticity, and vulnerability.

Seeing the divine in others: In India, “namaste” is a greeting that can be translated as, “I bow to the divine in you.” If the word divine doesn’t work for you, you can think of it simply as a deeper spiritual core, however you perceive that.

Think about how that idea might apply at work. How often do you judge others? How often do you see them as what amounts to a caricature, a distorted two-dimensional picture of who they actually are?

Any time you notice yourself doing that, you’re presented with an opportunity to step back and look at the person in question as a spiritual core wearing a human costume, with all its quirks and fallibilities.

Stepping out of the center: We live in a me, me, me culture. And that me-centricity is a recipe for both getting wrapped around the axle and losing touch with our spiritual core.

Our jobs present us with no end of opportunities to step out of the center. Maybe that means helping someone when it’s not convenient. Maybe it means really truly trying to understand where someone is coming from in a disagreement instead of succumbing to a knee-jerk reaction. Maybe it means making sure that everybody involved with a success gets credit.

Across spiritual traditions around the world, you could describe one of the key themes as getting out of your own way to clear the path to something greater. Persistently, consistently looking for opportunities to step out of the center at work has the potential to be a powerful practice.

Discipline: This is a decidedly unsexy but vital component of spiritual traditions around the world. It takes discipline to bring your practice out of the realm of philosophical abstractions and into the world you live in. It takes discipline to say no when your ego/small-s self wants to say yes. It takes discipline to focus on the long-term good when you’re feeling the pull of short-term gratification.

Discipline is a muscle that has to be exercised. Whether that discipline is getting organized (and staying that way), or saying no to the compulsion to overwork, or committing to dive more deeply into any of the ideas I described in this post, your job provides countless opportunities to develop and strengthen discipline.

Make it your own and put it into action

These aren’t they only practice areas. They might not even all be ones that you feel called to diving into.

You can start the process of making this your own practice by going through each of the ten areas and asking if each of them speaks to you. If one doesn’t, cross it off the list (at least for now). If you’d like to go even farther, brainstorm other areas that align with your own spiritual perspective.

Once you have come up with a list of practice areas that speak to you, you can start visiting them on a daily basis. To keep from getting overwhelmed, try picking one or two you want to focus on.

Keep exploring additional practice areas as they become more naturally integrated into how you approach your job.

Experiment with it for 30 days. See what happens. Keep what works. Toss what doesn’t.

Let your on-the-job spiritual practice evolve and see where it takes you!

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 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
The Occupational Adventure Guide

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

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