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