You’ve worked hard to establish yourself in your career, and you like your job. You’ve put in the time and energy to master each new role, advance up the ladder, and build a solid professional reputation. So why does it feel like something might be missing?
We all want to feel like the work we do means something. Not only does it make us feel good, but according to FastCompany, “increasing a sense of meaningfulness at work is one of the most potent–and underutilized–ways to increase productivity, engagement, and performance.” Additionally, new research from Imperative shows that “it is statistically impossible to be fulfilled in life if you aren’t fulfilled at work.”
If you’re seeking more meaning in your work life, the good news is that there are plenty of ways to find it that don’t involve quitting your full-time job to travel the world Eat, Pray, Love style.
To help you find more meaning at work, we asked 20 certified Designing Your Life Career Coaches this question:
What advice do you have for someone seeking more meaningful work without changing jobs?
Here are the suggestions they shared:
1. Reflect on what energizes vs. drains you
“To find more meaning at work without changing jobs, do the Designing Your Life ‘Good Time Journal‘ exercise to uncover what energises you (or doesn’t.) Once you know what energises you the most, seek it out. For example, you could volunteer your time for a new working group or project. Taking this a step further, volunteering in your community generally is always a good idea to help you explore your interests and practice new skills, whether this is via your organisation or as an individual. There are so many projects out there seeking support and they will inevitably lead to other opportunities and new connections.”
“Keep a daily Good Time Journal, select your strengths, zoom in on what does and doesn’t engage you, share that with your manager, and agree to jobcraft your work. Just for yourself: keep a diary in which you note the positive effects of your work for others, reflect, and learn.”
“The great news is: there are many ways to find more meaning in your work without changing your job! And in fact, when people ask ‘what should I do with my career?’ – I always advise that rather than making sudden changes at large cost, take advantage of ‘try it out’ opportunities to test where you can add value and how different activities/roles align with your strengths and ideal lifestyle.
To start, take an ‘energy audit’ of your week. For one week, write down your tasks each day and rate them in terms of energy (are they draining or replenishing?) and engagement (how ‘into’ this task where you?). At the end of the week, see what patterns exist! For those things that are low in energy/engagement, are there tweaks you can make? For example, I hate filling out reimbursement forms and I usually wait until Friday at 4:30pm to get started. By moving this task to Friday morning, I’ve made it more enjoyable – I can fill out the forms while sipping coffee and easily check off a ‘to do’ item early in the day. How can you rearrange or modify your tasks to increase energy/engagement?”
2. Don’t be afraid to work with your manager to “jobcraft”
“Today, companies are becoming much more flexible about how they retain talent. Most companies who have good leadership, diversity, and inclusion policies will be open to you presenting to them your plan for your own future. They want to keep you, and so will be open to you being self-directed about what you want. If they don’t know, they can’t help you. Don’t be shy – assume the best! So for example, if you are currently an accounts clerk or an account manager, but want to be more creative – consider how you might reduce the hours in your job by 25% and do something else with your talents that is of value to the organisation. Maybe you have been learning about Agile methodologies and can become a scrum leader to support change initiatives for 1 day a week? Maybe you have an idea for a new venture in your industry, and could share you business idea with senior management and seek their support to develop this within the company? Consider how your aspirations, values and career purpose fits with the direction in which the organisation is going. Make your plan align with theirs and it is very unlikely they won’t be open to finding a way to meet your aspirations.”
“Connecting your values to your work will always point you in the most meaningful direction. It’s very common to lose yourself and your passion by adopting your manager’s or organization’s values. Have an honest conversation with your manager about the parts of your job that fire you up and that benefit the company. If spending more time engaging customers and less time creating reports can energize you and generate more revenue, work with your manager on how to make that happen. You win. Your manager wins. Your organization wins. Everybody wins!
Here is a challenging yet critical exercise: ask yourself honestly, ‘What am I doing on a daily basis to work on myself?’ If you think you’ll finally be happy when you land a new job … or buy a new car, or house, or win the lottery … you might want to think again. While pursuing outer goals is important, reaching them still might leave you unfulfilled and always searching for the next one. Instead, think about your inner goals and how pursuing those can bring more meaning to your job. At work, tap into what resonates with you in your life, what brings satisfaction beyond just wins and losses and outcomes. Focus on how grateful, creative and caring you are. You might find your passion isn’t in another job, it was inside of you all along.”
“Jobcraft! This involves people redesigning their jobs to connect with what’s meaningful to them. By following the clues of what energises and engages them and fits with their values, clients can do more of that in their work. Finding meaningful work is associated with numerous benefits including increased motivation, performance, and job satisfaction. There are some really effective tools in the Designing Your Life methodology which help people align their personal values and sense of identity with their work.”
“Talk to your boss and HR. People are afraid of discussing how to do more meaningful tasks with their boss, but actually, your supervisor could be more open to this idea than you think. So, be brave to share your thoughts.”
–James Chen, Managing Director at Empowering Management Consulting Inc., China Representative at INCAE Business School
[Editor’s note: A great way to jobcraft more meaning into your role is to become a social intrapreneur within your company. Learn more and access free social intrapreneurship guides and resources here.]
3. Prototype — have a bias towards action
“Prototype! Designing Your Life encourages people to have a bias toward action. By all means, do your research, but at some point, early in your process you need to immerse yourself in your desired area. Read, research, blog, join LinkedIn groups, attend relevant conferences and network at industry events. Initiate conversations with others who have information and influence, arrange coffee catch-ups to find out more. Organise internships, secondments, or project work to build your exposure and expertise. Develop a heightened sense of curiosity about the experience of other people who are in roles or working in organisations that appeal to you. Be open-minded about possibilities. Perhaps the thing you have your heart set on is terrific, but through your exploration you will discover you are better suited to something tangentially related to your original target topic or role. Be future-oriented. Roles are changing fast as technology disrupts just about everything. Be adaptable and develop the skills to stay ahead of the game.”
–Barbara Mackie, Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) Career Development Manager
“Look within your organization to see what groups and clubs are available where you can plug in to a network of people who are doing work for the greater good….work that excites you. If that’s not available, volunteer. There are many amazing organizations doing incredibly impactful work. Get out there and try things (in the design world, we call this prototyping.) Continue to try things until you find what truly energizes you. Once you land in the perfect volunteer role in the perfect organization, this will have an incredibly powerful impact on the rest of your life – work, home, family, etc.”
4. Link your work to your core values
“Meaning is often tied to our core values. When we do something that is meaningful to us, it’s usually because deep down, it feels right. Thus, a good way to find more meaning in your job would be to take the time to clarify your values. Write them down. Make a list of things that are important for you in your life. It could be about family, friends, work, health, etc. Just write that down.
Then, ask yourself how your current job is serving those life values. By taking the time to think and write how your current job is serving your core values, you should start feeling more aligned.
Our brains tend to focus on the negative, so we can sometimes lose track of the reasons why we do what we do. By doing this exercise, you will remember why you are going to work every day. And if you can’t link your core values with your current work? Well, maybe it’s time to look for a new job!”
“What we identify as meaningful for us often coincides with what honors our core values. So first, understand what you value – connection, achievement, harmony, social impact, learning new things, the list goes on. Then identify which value(s) you’d like to honor more deeply in your life and seek out opportunities that allow you to do so.
If you value social impact, and you’re missing it at work, then look into workplace initiatives that honor this, such as volunteering opportunities or mentoring a new employee. Or you could add an element of social impact into a project already underway (e.g. if you’re planning an event, make it carbon neutral; if you’re working on a project that uses building materials, figure out how to source them sustainably and affordably). Similarly, you could consider how your own workplace might reduce its ecological footprint or support the surrounding community in more meaningful ways, then offer some of your time to enact those initiatives.
The point is to first figure out what drives you, and then explore ways to get more of it in your life. If you can’t find it at work, then do it in your “free time” and see if that impacts how you feel about your job.”
5. Share what you know with others
“Get to know yourself; what’s important and meaningful to you and what expertise you have that will allow you to make a positive impact connected to that. Find opportunities in your current workplace to give back, mentor, coach and share your wisdom.
Seek out value aligned organisations. Offer your time and expertise in a way that is of service to them. This allows you to get curious in those areas, make connections and try stuff. You would be surprised how the universe starts to align better with us when we are aligned with ourselves.”
“Help others. Find time to contribute beyond the confines of your role. Volunteer for a project, help find solutions, ask for suggestions (from your manager!) for ways to volunteer in a completely different area than yours. Find someone who could use a hand, and offer assistance. Helping others is one of the most rewarding things you can do and it often creates magical career opportunities.”
6. Shift your perspective to see the bigger picture
“Try to reframe the job you have. Instead of thinking, “I am only a small cog in this massive organization – I don’t matter,” try ‘My attitude toward my co-workers can be a light in their day and maybe put a smile on their face.’”
“If you don’t love your work but want to stay, it’s important that you find meaning in the work you are doing. Once you understand how your role, even if it’s entry level, impacts the bigger mission and vision of the organization, you will feel that you are a part of something bigger than you, which is what brings joy to our work and our lives.”
“Show gratitude. You’ve seen the studies on happiness and gratitude, right? In short, gratitude is critical to happiness. So be sure to be gracious towards your past (thankful for what got you here!), be gracious towards the present (take time to enjoy the moment), and be grateful for what is to come (hopeful for the future – it’s going to be great!)”
7. Follow your curiosity and connect with like-minded people
“Have conversations with interesting people. Find out what drives them and what they find fulfilling about their work. Get involved with an organization doing work on something that you care about. Learn more about what they do, how they do it and why. Think about how some of those folks would approach your job. Then, look at ways you can apply what you learned to your own job. Find new ways to connect with the broader purpose and mission of your job. It just might change how you view it.”
“When seeking meaningful work, follow your curiosity. Start asking questions of those who are doing stuff you admire or who are contributing in a way that you long to. Don’t ask them what you should do. Don’t ask them for help. Simply get curious about their story. Learn from them and connect with the positive energy that drew you to them. Then watch as ideas begin to grow in you. Then follow those ideas with curiosity.”
“First I would suggest finding out what is meaningful to you in life, and in your career. Align with your values and discover what is most important to you. Explore if there are people with similar values in your company, starting with people you directly work with. Then find or propose projects that are meaningful to you. Start with a small project. You will still find it meaningful and satisfying, and build from there.”
[Editor’s note: To connect with a cohort of professionals on the same path toward meaningful work that makes a positive impact, apply to the next MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship]
8. Take a holistic approach — expand your search outside of work
“It’s important to realize that your values can be met through multiple facets of life, not just through your work. So in my opinion, the idea of the ‘perfect job’ for every person is a myth. I’ve met many people who are perfectly happy doing a job that interests them and that they are skilled to do, but they fulfil their values through some other means. They may be cultivating a creative life on the side, expanding their spirituality in various ways, investing in fitness and athletic activities, enjoying travel, doing community service, starting a nonprofit on the side, etc. We are fortunate to live in a time where having multiple ‘career paths’ and activities on our plate is a realistic possibility. In fact, using some of these methods to transition into new careers is quite common. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to invest myself fully in my work as a career counselor and an administrator, studying career development and transitions in higher education, while pursuing a legitimate choral and voiceover career. In the 21st century, you can take advantage of the multitude of opportunities available to you. The world is your oyster if you choose to see it so!”
–Rita Soultanian, Director of Career and Re-Entry Center at Saddleback College
“It’s so wise to look at your entire life when you’re considering where you find meaning and how you can make an impact. Work is the logical first place to put your attention simply because of the volume of time that we spend in our professional world. And there are many ways to infuse meaning at work by seeking out projects that can position you for a career pivot, looking for volunteer opportunities, and investing yourself in particular dimensions of your work in a way that matters to you.
Other avenues in your life where you might find more meaning outside of your salaried position include adding a side gig, partnering with a nonprofit, serving on a board, or looking for other conduits to have frontline contact with populations and causes that matter deeply to you. See if you can find channels for creative expression that touch causes that speak to you. For example, my sister, who is a potter, often makes special one-time editions of coffee mugs with social and political messages that align with her heart and she donates a significant portion of the revenue from the mugs to nonprofits that she supports. Your activism can come in many forms – look for one that’s unique to you and to your circumstances.”
“Create your own definition of meaningful work. Whatever your definition is, there are big and small ways to do that: being a docent at a museum, volunteering to help kids to read at an elementary school, reaching out to local places of worship (they usually have outreach coordinators), food banks, retirement homes, or places like the Boys and Girls Club to become an official big brother or sister. Maybe you’re a musician in your OWL (outside work-life) and you become a volunteer at a school or hospital in a way that makes sense for you. It doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment. Always start small, an hour or two a week, or less. There is such a need for HELP. There are sites, like VolunteerMatch, that you can visit to find places in your area that are in need of volunteers.
It doesn’t have to be formal volunteering to create more meaning. Much of our meaning creation in life has to do with our connection to others. Maybe that meaning is right around us. Could ‘meaningful work’ mean taking a deep breath, putting dinner on hold and reading a book to your child? Maybe it means taking a walk through your neighborhood and taking the time to stop and chat with a neighbor or make silly faces at a little one.
We’re so busy; so overwhelmed more often than not. We are all pining for meaning. If you’re seeking more meaningful work without changing jobs, create a vision for yourself of how you want to be and feel in the world. Here’s an exercise: paint a picture with words in the present tense of what you’re doing five years from now, who you’re with (or not). In the final sentence, use three words to describe how you feel in this picture. How do those three feeling words show up in your work life? In your personal life? (Really, there’s just one “life”.)
The visions my clients paint are vastly different, however, those last three feeling words overlap a great deal. They feel calm, grounded, joyful, strong, connected, hopeful, open. All those words indicate the meaning in their lives. Seek out behaviors that support those three feeling words at work, at home, and in your relationship. My guess is you’ll feel a sense of meaning start to grow across the board in your life.”
We hope the guidance offered by this outstanding network of coaches helps you design your work-life to be both meaningful and fulfilling. As you take the first steps towards more meaningful work, take advantage of these Designing Your Life resources and remember to:
- Reflect on what energizes vs. drains you
- Speak up to your manager and “jobcraft”
- Prototype and have a bias towards action
- Link your work to your core values
- Share what you know with others
- Shift your perspective to see the bigger picture
- Follow your curiosity and connect with like-minded people
- Take a holistic approach and expand your search outside of work
We are grateful to the coaches featured in this piece for their generosity in sharing their insights with our community. For more support in driving meaningful change with your career, check out our social impact career acceleration program for professionals or reach out to any of the coaches above whose advice resonated with you!