To be successful, the first thing to do is fall in love with your work. – Sister Mary Lauretta
What does ‘meaningful work’ mean to you? According to Malcom Gladwell meaningful work is work that is autonomous. Work that is complex, that occupies your mind. And work where there is a relationship between effort and reward — for everything you put in, you get something out.
When was the last time you reflected on the work you do? Are you focused and mindful with your pursuits? Are you able to answer the following questions?
- Am I being challenged?
- Am I growing and learning new skills?
- Am I respected by my colleagues?
- Do I believe in the mission of the organization I’m working with?
Think long term – Ask yourself what life you want. Think about where you want to be in five, ten, 20 years. Of course, you have to answer more immediate questions about what you want in your current job or your next, but do so only in the context of your longer, larger career goals.
Meaningful work will mean something different for each of us. I encourage you to look beyond the obvious things, like salary, title, or prestige of the company and reflect on the following categories:
This is about the concrete outcomes of your work. What do you want to achieve? Sure, you may spend a lot of your day responding to emails or attending meetings — most jobs entail at least some of that — but what evidence do you want of your work?
These are the strengths that you want to improve. The key is that you are using these strengths in a way that you find rewarding. Being good at something you don’t enjoy doesn’t count; it has to be something you love to do.
This is about the salary, benefits, and flexibility you need to live the life you want. For some people, this may mean a high paycheck that allows you to take exotic vacations. For others, it could be the freedom to work when and where you choose. Here you need to know the lifestyle you want and ask whether your job is helping you fulfill that.
This covers the culture and values of the place you work. This is not the same as mission; it is about whether you feel like you belong. What are the beliefs and priorities of the company and the people you work with? How do people treat each other? Do they collaborate? Have lunch together? It’s important to enjoy spending time with your colleagues and your manager.
The content of these categories will vary for each person. Make a list of all the things you value, and then prioritize them. This list will help guide your decisions and can be used to evaluate specific opportunities like a new assignment in your current role, a job at a different company, or a new career path.
Answers to the above questions are the things that will make the difference between being okay with your work and being truly happy.
The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them. – George Bernard Shaw