Want to energize your career? Make a personally meaningful difference

make a personally meaningful difference

Woven through all the work I do is a simple question: “How do I bring more of what energizes me into my career, and my life?”

In my work with clients, that frequently boils down to two lines of inquiry:

  • What are my sources of energy?
  • How can I create opportunities to experience more of those energy sources, more often?

Over the last thirteen years of my Passion Catalyst work, I have spent a lot of time thinking about where that energy comes from.

One source of energy that is frequently overlooked is making a difference. Not just any ol’ making a difference, but what I call a “personally meaningful difference.”

A different look at making a difference

To tap into this one requires a little different way of thinking about what making a difference means.

Here’s the thing. All work is inherently about making a difference. Something is different when you’re done than when you started. A product was created, a customer was helped, the peace was kept, a burger was served. Whatever.

So if you’re going to be making a difference anyway, doesn’t it make sense to figure what kind of difference has the most juice for you? Put another way, what kinds of outcomes have the most charge for you? What do you find most compelling?

Because I’m willing to bet that all kinds of differences are not created equal. Some will leave you feeling engaged, while others will leave you ambivalent.

When the difference you make energizes you and feels compelling, it’s what I call a “personally meaningful difference.” 

My own personally meaningful difference

To make this a little more specific, I’ll use myself as an example. For me, one outcome that has a huge charge is seeing the light bulb going on as someone gets clarity. On the other hand, if I work all day to create some sense of order in my office space, I might find it satisfying enough, but there’s not much energy to it.

If I explored why the first has such a charge, I would say that it’s really about two things. First, it’s specifically about helping people. Making a positive impact on the environment, or helping a company improve its bottom line are outcomes I know intellectually are important, but they don’t have the deep resonance for me that helping people does.

Second, it’s about creating clarity, and the doors that insight opens and the possibilities it creates.

No, it’s not about joining the Peace Corps

Note that in this context making a difference isn’t necessarily the do-gooder activity we typically think of. It could be, but it might also be the executive assistant who feels completely energized knowing that the order he or she creates is making it possible for someone to do more and achieve more.

So it’s not inherently about changing the world in the stereotypical way.

And it’s not about what anybody else thinks is important. Identifying an outcome as energizing isn’t a value judgment of whether or not it is important in the scope of the world.

It’s about noticing how you are wired as an individual.

What anybody else thinks is important has zero, zip, nada relevance.

Find your personal meaning characteristics

Ultimately it boils down to this. What are the characteristics of the kinds of outcomes you find particularly compelling?

If you could wave your magic wand and work toward any outcome you wanted, what would that look like? Would it be about helping people? Would it be about the environment? Would it be something that had a clear, immediate impact? Would it be something that has a bigger picture strategic impact? Would it be up close and personal, or would it be making a difference at a large scale? What else?

You might start by just paying attention to your current work. What do you find compelling about the outcome of what you are doing now? Why do you find it compelling?

You can also look at the outcomes other people are working towards (not the actual work they are doing, but the outcomes). Make a list of outcomes that make your heart say, “Yes! That’s important!” Then dig into why each of the scenarios on your list has such a charge.

The more you understand about what a personally meaningful difference looks like for you, the more consciously you can look for opportunities to tap into that energy.

Otherwise, your best hope is just to luck into it. Not the best career planning strategy.


[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]


Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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