“Squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives. As it turns out, it’s not merely benign or ‘too bad’ if we don’t use the gifts that we’ve been given; we pay for it with our emotional and physical well-being. When we don’t use our talents to cultivate meaningful work, we struggle. We feel disconnected and weighted down by feelings of emptiness, frustration, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear, and even grief.” ~ Brené Brown
Whether you work for someone else or are self-employed, purpose and meaning are essential to your happiness and well-being. Research has shown most people find meaningful work is actually more important to them than the salary they receive or the job title.
What is Meaningful Work?
Meaningful work is about more than just doing a job to collect a paycheck. What gives our work meaning is doing something that serves something or others beyond ourselves.
What’s meaningful is unique to each individual. Some people can find meaning in their work by simply shifting their perspective. For work to be meaningful, you need to understand the “why” behind your work. Try thinking beyond what you’re doing to who or what is helped or enriched by what you do. In what ways is your work important?
For many, it’s about matching their passions, talents and interests with the tasks they perform at work. What do you love to do? What are you good at doing? What engages you? Where your passions and talents intersect, you’ll find meaning.
Meaningful work will always be in alignment with your values, so it’s important to understand what you hold as your top values. Take a look at how your career does or doesn’t reflect the values you hold. If you work for a company, do their values align with yours? A disconnect between your values and the workplace values destroys any sense of purpose and meaning.
“A meaningful career is one where we feel an authentic connection between the work we do and a broader life purpose beyond the self.” ~ Jory MacKay
The Benefits of Meaningful Work
When your work is meaningful:
- You’re charged with more energy because what you’re doing matters to you and you know it benefits others. You have a sense of purpose.
- You’re making a contribution to the larger whole in some way, which enhances your levels of satisfaction.
- Your ability to perform at your highest levels is supported.
- You’re spending your time in work that aligns with your values.
- You’re more engaged with your work, so job satisfaction rises.
- You’re more excited to get to work each day.
When It Goes Beyond Meaning
Sometimes work can be meaningful, but other factors interfere with the satisfaction one would expect. I experienced that in my career as a lower elementary Montessori teacher when there was a management change in the school. Teachers were being asked to do more paperwork, which could have been accomplished in a more streamlined fashion. Input from teachers on many issues weren’t valued. The entire work environment became more restricted, so it left little room for innovation.
When the work environment grates against your personal style, it erodes job satisfaction, even when doing meaningful work.
Be aware of your own work style and see where you can negotiate some changes. There may also be ways you can find the wiggle room to create more freedom to work according to your own style. If not, it may be time to consider a different environment.
What is meaningful to you? I invite you to comment below to share your thoughts on what you find meaningful in your work, or what you envision as a meaningful career.