Make Your Work Meaningful
Updated: Jun 12, 2019
It happens all too often. The alarm rings, the snooze button is hit, it eventually rings again and this cycle continues until it is the last possible minute that you can sleep in so you reluctantly drag yourself out of bed to do that dreaded thing you do every day: go to work. You dream of a better life, one with a purpose, one where your actions matter as you sleepily brush your teeth in anticipation of what will no doubt be another long and arduous day.
But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if you worked somewhere that made you feel like your time was well spent. What if you could feel inspired to do better every day. What if you felt motivated to challenge yourself and excited to execute your duties with enthusiasm and skill? What if you could just cultivate that feeling right now within yourself without having to go through the scary and risky process of changing jobs or careers?
Good news. You can.
Cultivating meaning and a purpose at work is nothing more than shifting your personal perception about your work. Taking the time and the effort to figure out how your work positively impacts the lives of others and seeing how your work coincides with your values could be the only thing standing between you and your best life.
Purpose is the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves. Purpose denotes that we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves indicating that we make an important impact on the world around us. But to have purpose you have to work your way up to an impressive job title like CEO for our actions to matter, right? Wrong. We are far too quick to overlook the fact that everything we do impacts another person and if we are deliberate in impacting others through our work in a positive way, we have found our purpose. It’s that simple.
Angela Duckworth, the author of the best-selling book “Grit”, has explored the idea that a major component to feeling happy and satisfied with our lives relies on us finding the meaning in our work. She uses the following example of the parable of the bricklayers to illustrate this:
”Three bricklayers are asked: ‘What are you doing?’
The first says, ‘I am laying bricks.’
The second says, ‘I am building a church.’
The third says, ‘I am building the house of God.’”
In this example, all three people are doing the same exact job, but it is the perception of their position that separates the one who just has a job and the one who has found his calling. The first bricklayer has nothing but a job. He shows up, does his repetitive rote task, gets paid, goes home. His life is devoid of meaning, but at the end of the day he got his money. Nothing more. He sees his work as just another necessity of life.
The second bricklayer has a career. His intrinsic goals are motivated by professional growth. He sees his job as another stepping stone to other jobs. As a man with a career, he can use his current position as a milestone to move onto better positions.
However, the last man has a calling. He knows that each brick he lays will contribute to incredible moments in other people’s lives as he has been bestowed with the impressive honor of building the house of god. He gets paid just like the other two, he has a career just like the second, but he also has found purpose and meaning for every brick that he lays with his own hands. He knows that what he is doing affects others for the better and he sees his work as one of the most important things in his life.
Each of these men have the same job and get paid the same amount but one of them is much richer. Those who are fortunate enough to see their job as a calling have the sense that their work makes the world a better place. Garbage men with a calling understand the importance that their position has on society, librarians with a calling realize the value of providing communities with accessible knowledge and information, housekeepers with a calling recognize the peace and security they give individuals by providing them with a clean organized space they can come home to after working for their own callings.
A calling is not something that you look for or find. A calling is something that you cultivate within yourself so that you can be of service to others. A calling connects you with your deepest values as you connect deeper with those you assist. It’s these people who have identified their callings that feel most satisfied with their lives overall. So how do you start to identify your calling?
1) Don’t take your work for granted
How often do you hear people complain how much they hate their job. They hate their boss, the work, their colleagues, the hours, the industry ect. No job, career or calling is trouble free and there will always be aspects that you would rather not deal with. But do not take your work for granted. At its most basic your work provides you with an income, it provides you with activities, it provides you with challenges and it may even provide you with socialization. No job is 100% bad and there is always something to appreciate even if you’re are dissatisfied with your position. Make it a habit to recognize daily all the things that you are grateful for because no matter how miserable you think you might be in your position, there is someone out there who wishes they had the opportunity you have and may even find their calling in it.
2) Know that you don’t have to change occupations to find your calling
We are often fed this myth that we have to go out and FIND our calling when the truth is you must find the calling in what you do. A calling is different from a dream. We all had those childhood aspirations growing up to be a world class athlete or an award winning performer or the next great inventor. But more often than not, these dreams are born out of self-motivated desires. The desire to have more money, respect, power, fame. They do not necessarily fulfill a calling which is greater than ourselves.
That’s not to say that world class athlete’s or famous rock star’s haven’t found their calling. Many of them have within their respective industries and many of them have used their influence outside of their professions to fulfill their callings. Bono may have been successful at music, but his true calling laid within humanitarian efforts. Kim Kardashian may be a media mogul but it seems her true calling lies within the justice system.
Don’t mistake childhood dreams for a calling. A dream is a personal goal, a calling is your service to others.
3) Know your values
Your values are an intuitive expression of what’s most important to you in life. These are the behaviors and characteristics that influence your decisions. Maybe you value your modesty and privacy so in that case, becoming an exotic dancer would go against those values. But because our personal values are so innate, we can compromise them often which gets in the way with our happiness.
For example maybe one of your core values is exhibiting kindness, but because society places high reward on high earners, you’ve chosen to work in the cut throat world of the stock exchange solely for the income. In this case, you would have compromised your values. As you could imagine, it would be hard coping in such a position that infringes on your personal values this way and it would be impossible to correct if you weren’t even aware that you had this value in the first place. This is why it’s so important to identify what is most important to you in life.
A great exercise is to make a list of the 6 most important things to you in your life. Now that you know your values, you can start seeing ways that your position can fulfill some of the things that are most important to you. Using your personal values as a guide you can find meaning in all work whether you work in the stock exchange or a gentleman’s club.
4) Finding your calling can take time
If you have been working somewhere for a certain amount of years, don’t assume you’ll find your calling overnight. For some people this can take a lot of soul searching and re-structuring your values. A change in perception can be difficult and take some work. Be patient with yourself and know that now that you’re aware that your calling lies within you and not with some dream career in another dimension, that you will definitely discover your calling if you stay dedicated to finding it.
5) It’s never too late to start developing sense of purpose
It doesn’t matter if your 17 or 70 there is no right age to find your calling. Discovering the purpose in what you do is part of your individual journey. Don’t compare yourself to others who have seemingly found their calling before you. This is your story and you write it at your own pace.
6) Take stock of how your work currently affects people
You may already be living your calling and not even be aware of it. Make a list of everything that you do that positively affects people through your work. Maybe you’re a server and a people lover. Maybe you always make an effort to make customers feel welcome, maybe you go above and beyond the call of duty by providing them with extras so they get more value out their experience, maybe take the extra care to make sure that their table is always clean and they know that you are always there to assist. These things might not seem like huge gestures on paper, but to the person being served and getting that extra attention it probably means the world. You have orchestrated a stellar experience for them and that affects them. They will remember that service, they will go to their next destination in a better mood, they may even be inspired to be a little kinder that day because you’ve done the most to make that one customer feel special. That is no small feat.
Whatever line of work you are in, really suss out each and every way you positively affect other people through your work and you will definitely start to see the value that your efforts bring. This exercise will bring you closer to understanding your calling and bringing more purpose to your work.
7) Identify the small changes you can do to connect you with your values at work
Now that you’ve identified your values and you’re aware of how your work positively affects others, it’s time to start crafting your job into a more meaningful position. For example to use the server example again, let’s say one of your core values is creative expression. If that’s the case then maybe offer to work with your manager on creative promotions. Offer to make creative content for your establishment’s social media page. Figure out ways that you can start incorporating your personal values into your daily work that also helps the company you work for.
Now if your highest goal is just simply getting a career or working a job, this might come across as extra work for no extra pay. However, if it is a calling you seek and you want to get the most out your work these extra tasks will feel nothing short of fulfilling as long as they fit within your values and strengthen your calling.
8) Stop seeing purpose as a luxury
Your purpose, your life calling is not a luxury. It is what we need as humans to feel fulfilled in life. Finding purpose is not dedicated to the select few lucky ones, it is reserved for those who are committed to finding their calling and are open to the opportunities that finding a calling brings. A purpose isn’t a luxury, it is a necessary ingredient to living a successful and happy life.