How to Find Meaning At Work

Career Blog

Some people live to work. They consider their jobs to be professions and their professions to be vocations. If your occupation is truly a calling, your days are likely flush with purpose. For others, the search for meaning, even satisfaction, can be a struggle. 

Where to Begin?  

Meaning often stems from engaging in an activity that benefits or contributes to something greater than yourself. That can be a small thing – the right word at the right moment to nudge a colleague to greater success. Or it can be more significant, such as shepherding an organization through change. 

Some roles have a direct service connection while finding meaning in others relies on the two factors. 

  1. Your Perspective: How you view your work. Are you laying bricks or building a castle?
  2. Your Expectations: Results of your efforts. Perhaps you see today’s “uninspired” labor as the means to secure the education, experience, or financial wherewithal to chase the ideal role.  

We all work within the frames of our respective professions. The “what” we do is important, but people often remember “the how” we do it. For me, purpose comes in part from the endless pursuit of mastering that how.

Impact of Education

It’s important, but education does not guarantee a meaningful work life. Organizations are littered with broke intellectuals who toil in useless professions they despise. Alternatively, many who lack degrees out-earn the college crowd while yielding greater satisfaction from their pursuits.  

Like most variables, the impact of education, especially at post-graduate levels, is hard to predict. The best action is to be honest with yourself and make choices accordingly. Never pursue a should. And never chase someone else’s educational ambition. You either won’t catch it or, surprisingly enough, won’t want it if you do.

Opportunity Cost

Work pays, but it also costs. Those costs vary by role and can include wear on our bodies, minds, and psyches. And they all cost time—time away from family, friends, and every other conceivable pursuit. Opportunity cost is the real trick. By engaging in one thing, we, by definition, forgo everything else.

Some people are okay with that. They thank God for Friday and live for the weekend. If work is just a means to an end, a dollar-for-hour trade-off you’ve come to terms with, you won’t mind the bill. For other’s the price is too steep to pay. For them, satisfaction is a must-have, and meaning is a worthy pursuit.  

A Brutal Truth

It’s been said that everyone has something they love to do and something at which they excel, and if God is smiling, they are the same. 

Most of us aren’t that lucky. Even if our passions and skills align, competition in those fields may best our greatest efforts. Knowing your worth and testing your value can be scary, but it can pave the path toward meaning. If you’re up for the challenge, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What kind of living would I earn if I hung a shingle and offered my “profession” as a service to the public?  
  2. How would I feel if that service was part of my legacy?

The first question is easy. It gets at the wants and needs of others. The second is more complicated because it rubs up against reality. Not everything produced is worth the production, let alone remembering. 

In the end, meaning is a complex and elusive prize. Still, I recommend the chase. If you’re wary, start with satisfaction. Most find it in a simple sense of completion. 

Doubt that? Consider this: Some video games let city dwellers mow virtual grass. Ridiculous? Yes. But a rush comes from moving something, even a little virtual something, from start to finish.

Want meaning? Get moving. You can find purpose anywhere. You only need to look.

Need a career coach? Contact me here and follow me on LinkedIn

Photo by Italo Melo

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