On last week’s episode of ENCORE, our guest Kelly Weeks discussed the generational differences in the workplace and the role “meaningful work” played in that scenario. While younger generations have entered the workforce with notions of finding such work, it is not a foreign concept to boomer professionals either. As these experienced workers near the later stages of their careers, they begin to reflect on what they’ve accomplished and, in some cases, they seek to find work that has more meaning to them. But what does that mean?
The term “meaningful work” is one of those phrases that we all accept with some level of understanding but is in actuality very hard to define. It can be a very vague thing to look for ‘meaning’ in your work as just about any job can attach something to it that would satisfy the general definition. Of course, when we speak of meaningful work, we are really talking about that is meaningful to you. It doesn’t need to be saving the world, or helping those less fortunate. While those are all noble reasons to join a career, it’s not selfish to choose a different path. So what does meaning work mean to you? It’s not as easy a question as it might seem. Like many decisions that inform your path, this requires a good deal of self-reflection.
Ask yourself the right questions.
Part of the necessary self-reflection involved here is asking yourself the important questions regarding whatever decision you may or may not make. So what are the questions you need to ask yourself before you can find meaningful work?
What do I like about my current job? Start with where you are now in your career. If you’re interested in seeking out more meaningful work then it’s safe to assume you’re not completely satisfied with your current work. However, it’s also quite likely that there are aspects of it that you love. Identify those areas that make you happy and that will give you a good foundation for knowing what you want out of work.
What would I do if money was not a factor? Regardless of whether or not we are happy at work, our salary tends to play a fairly significant role in our career path. Finances are important for living a full and happy life, but what if they weren’t? What if you won the lottery tomorrow and didn’t need to worry about money ever again? What would you do for a living? Yes, it’s a hypothetical question that will never become reality for many of us, but it helps us get to the center of what we hold as important in terms of work.
What if I couldn’t fail? Something that keeps many of us back from pursuing our true passions as a career is a fear of failure. It’s something that can be hard to kick, no matter how old and experienced we are. It seems safer to not try something than to try something and fail. Put yourself in a position where failure doesn’t matter. What would you do if you weren’t scared of not succeeding?
It’s a mixture of skill and passion.
The above questions work to identifying where your passions lie in terms of your career. Passion is certainly an important part of finding meaningful work. As with any career, passion for your work leads to more productivity, happiness and overall better quality of life. Therefore, it is your passion for your work that, in turn, makes that work meaningful. However, there is still a question of what is realistic. That is why meaningful work is a combination of passion and skill. You need to be competent, talented and experienced with the work in order to make it a career. Otherwise it is just a hobby.
Look for a positive environment.
Finally, there are other aspects of working beyond the actual work you do. There is the office environment, the work structure and the people you work with. The nature of your work might be very appealing but these factors can be very influential in whether or not it is meaningful work. This goes back to the question of what you like about your current work. Positivity at work is very important, especially in the later stages of your career. If you go into work everyday and it misses that positivity, it becomes a drain and could push you to ending your career earlier than you would have wanted.
Meaningful work is not something that is easily recognizable, however, so of us are content enough to find even some fraction of that in our work. The fact remains that at a certain point in our careers, priorities change and suddenly there is a need for something that has been missing up until now. If you seek out your meaningful work, be true to yourself and the journey will no doubt be worth the trouble.
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