What is meaningful work?
Our work is meaningful when it has significance and purpose, aligns with our core values and contributes to the greater good. Work is meaningful when it connects us to something bigger than ourselves.
To clarify, being engaged in meaningful work does not mean that the work is always easy, fun, something that comes naturally, etc. You can be pursuing the meaningful work you were created to pursue and still struggle, fail, slide down the wrong side of a steep learning curve a time or two, or have just plain crappy days. The struggle, the fighting through the crap, is part of what makes it meaningful. Nothing of value comes easily.
Deciding that something is “meaningful work” very subjective. Maybe that’s why our individual meaningful work seems so open to the judgement of others. They’re judging the value of our work and purpose by their own perceptions and values. While it’s possible to have similar values and convictions as someone else, personal experience and souls mean that meaningful work does not look the same for any two people.
Why is meaningful work so scary?
When I was an accountant, my work didn’t feel meaningful. I was contributing to a greater good, and even at times having a significant positive impact. But the position itself wasn’t directly connected to building others up, creating teams, helping others grow their talents and careers, or people focused. My daily job was to do the accounting. The meaningful stuff, the people stuff, was what I did in addition to my job.
When I took the risk and seriously pursued managing, things became much more meaningful, but also much more risky. Now, if I fail at my work, I’m probably taking a few others down with me - because failing means failing my team. But even more than the surface of my job, and my team, it would me that I failed to be the type of person and leader I believe myself to be. The real struggle of committing wholeheartedly to your meaningful work comes from the incredible vulnerability of putting such an important piece of your soul out there in the world. When we choose to pursue something that comes from our deepest convictions and values, we’re allowing the world an opportunity to reject the “real us.”
How do we pursue meaningful work despite our fears?
1. Self-awareness: We need to be fully aware of and connected to the values that drive our meaningful work. Not that we need to defend ourselves to others, but we need to be able to remind ourselves when things get hard or people get judgey.
2. Community: We all need a community of people who understand our desire to pursue our purpose. These people don’t have to share the exact same convictions, but they do have to understand the desire and risk that comes with pursuing meaningful work. As Brene Brown says, these are the people that are in the arena with you.
3. Start small: Going against expectations, real or perceived, is hard, scary, anxiety-producing, terrifying, insert your own adjective here. It takes practice sometimes. Look at your life right now, see where there’s a little shift you can make that will move you closer into alignment with your values and meaningful work, then take it. As you keep taking small steps, maybe failing and trying again, your ability to take bigger steps will be strengthened.
What is your Meaningful Work?
What values are at the core of your meaningful work?
What are some barriers you feel are keeping you from committing to your meaningful work?