What makes work meaningful?

meaningful work

What gives your work a sense of meaning?

I’m about to start a series of posts aimed at finding meaning in your work (update – here’s the main post). Before I do, I want to explore this idea of meaning, which can be a tad slippery and ambiguous. Ask any ten people what meaning means, and you’ll probably get ten different answers. There is no pat, standard definition.

One way to think about finding meaning is answering the question, “Why does this matter?” Why does this matter to you? Why does this matter to others? Why does this matter to your company? Why does this matter to society? Why does this matter to nature?

As you explore the answer to that question, don’t fall into the trap of believing that meaning only comes from being Captain Save-the-Planet. Making a difference can certainly be a source of meaning, but it’s not the only one.

What matters might be the joy you get from the work you do. It might be the sense of connection you get with others. It might be the learning and growth that comes from it.

If you want a short, handy-dandy definition, it’s this:

Meaningful work = Work that matters

And what, you may well be wondering, makes work matter? I’m glad you asked.

What makes work matter?

What makes that work matter can fall into several broad categories, including:

Personal

This could be doing work that energizes you and makes you feel alive. It could be work that challenges you and helps you constantly learn and grow. It could be working in a specific area that matters deeply to you (e.g., health care, or working with at-risk youth). It could be making work an expression of your spirituality or values, whether through what you do or how you do it.

Interpersonal

Simply put, this is about relationships and connection. It might be directly related to the work you do, or it might be the friendship and community you experience overall in your work.

Benefit beyond you

This is what people typically think about when think about meaningful work. It’s about making a difference. Creating a benefit for something beyond you and your immediate little world.

This isn’t just about being a stereotypical do-gooder (though it might be, if that’s your authentic path). It might just as well be about benefiting the people you work with, or your employer, or the market you serve.

Make your personal definition of meaning

So there you have it. A simple way to think about what makes work meaningful. It’s not THE definition of meaningful work (there are a million ways to slice that one), but it’s a functional one that offers a framework for consciously making meaning a part of your career.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it on for size. See if it resonates. If something is missing, add it. If something is there that doesn’t work for you, give it the heave ho.

Ultimately, what feels meaningful for you isn’t mine to define. It’s a unique and individual thing. Treat this post as a starting point as you set out to discover both your personal definition of meaning and how to incorporate that into your career.

In the coming posts I’ll be doing a deep dive into a variety of ways to bring more of a sense of meaning into your work. Stay tuned!

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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