How to Find Meaning At Work

Career Blog

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

Where to begin? 

Meaning often stems from engaging in an activity that provides a benefit or makes a contribution to something greater than yourself. 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.
Impact of Education

It’s important, but education in itself does not guarantee a meaningful work life. Organizations are littered with broke intellectuals who toil in useless professions they despise. Alternatively, many people 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 course of 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 won’t want it if you do.

Opportunity Cost

Work pays. But it also costs. Depending on our roles those costs can wear our bodies, our minds, even our psyche. 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 that 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. If God is smiling on you, they are the same thing. 

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 a scary proposition, 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 harder because it rubs up against reality. Not everything produced is worth the production…nor hardly worth remembering. 

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

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

Want meaning? Get moving.

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Photo by Italo Melo

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