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

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

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

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

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

What is meaning?

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

Meaningful work = Work that matters

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

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

So let’s dive in!

Know thyself: Practice the art of self-awareness

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

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

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

Know thy world: Practice the art of external awareness

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

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

Find the difference you’re making

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

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

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

Find a difference to make

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

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

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

Cultivate relationships & community

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

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

[See how relationships can make work more meaningful.]

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

Look for learning & growth

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

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

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

Put it in the context of a big picture vision

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

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

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

Shape your perspective

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

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

Make work your spiritual practice

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

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

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

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

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

Authentic expression

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

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

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

[You can start by identifying your energizers.]

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

Find the meaning – all day, every day

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

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

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

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

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

Recognize work as a facilitator

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

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

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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