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  • Ali Boston

How to get started with meaningful work

For many of us, working isn’t just a way to pay the bills – it's a vital source of purpose, community and meaning in our lives. But it can be hard to pin down what, exactly, meaningful work is. We share three steps to get you started exploring what meaningful work looks like to you. 

A red-haired woman at a laptop in a cafe
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Whether you work a regular nine-to-five, in shifts, part-time, in the office or from home—or perhaps you’re in between jobs right now—you no doubt spend a big chunk of your daily life working or thinking about work. Yes, most of us need work to earn a living. But, for many of us, work is also about more than that. Work can bring a sense of purpose, community, and meaning to our lives. There is something very rewarding and satisfying in a job well done—so much so, that work often becomes an integral part of our identity. Seventy percent of employees said their sense of purpose is largely defined by their work in a 2020 survey by McKinsey.  


Take the Meaningful Work Inventory - go to Services

Yet work can often feel like a meaningless experience. According to Gallup’s most recent State of the Global Workplace report, just under a quarter of us report being engaged in our jobs. Overworked by a boss who doesn’t seem to care about us, running after endless tasks that don’t fulfill us, stressed and burned out—work has the power to bring us to despair as well as joy.  


What ultimately makes work a rewarding and meaningful experience for you will be up to you to decide —and it will probably change as you move through your working life. No one can tell you what will make your worklife more meaningful, because no one else can know exactly what it is that sparks joy in you, or frustrates you above all else. This can make it challenging to know where to start with meaningful work. How do you identify what it is that makes your work meaningful to you? And what can you do if your work isn’t meaningful?  


Although everyone is on their own unique journey, what we do know is that there are some universal sources of meaning at work that all humans share and can tap into—such as a rewarding relationship with our colleagues, a sense of autonomy in the work we do, or work that’s aligned with our values


 At MeaningSphere, our mission is to inspire, support and connect people in their quest to discover and experience greater meaning in their work. We are building a collection of learning experiences, backed by research into meaningful work, to help you uncover and find the right words to articulate exactly what it is that makes you tick. To get you started on your journey, we’ve put together some first steps you can take to help you shape a working life that’s meaningful to you.  


Step one: Make a commitment to self-discovery 

A child silhouetted in front of a sunrise
Photo by Alexandre Chambon on Unsplash

Before you do anything else, commit to investing time and energy in this process. Understanding what makes your work meaningful to you won’t happen overnight. It requires self-reflection, which can take time. So, it’s important that you think about what it is specifically that you’re struggling with, what energizes you, or what you want to learn about yourself and your relationship with your work. Getting started can be as simple as reflecting on how you feel about your workday and getting concrete about what it is that does or doesn’t bring you joy. 


Questions to ask yourself: 

  • What do you hope to learn from this process?  

  • As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

  • How would you describe your current work to your childhood self? 

  • Are you experiencing any challenges at work at the moment? Or is there anything specifically that you’re working towards or want to improve? 

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how positive do you feel about work at the moment? 

 

What to try: 

  • Take a piece of paper or a notebook and write down your commitment to this process.  

I [name] commit to exploring my experience at work to better understand what I find meaningful about work and to identify steps I can take to improve my everyday experience at work.  

  

Step two: Explore what matters to you  

It can be tempting to jump straight into action, but to truly understand yourself and your experience of work, you need to begin with some exploration. Take time to talk to others and hear about their experiences of work—their stories and insights might inspire you on your own journey. As well as reflecting on your own experience, you might also find it helpful to ask friends and colleagues for their perspectives about how you are at work.  

  

Questions to ask yourself: 

  • What energizes you at work and why?  Think back over the last two weeks. Try to name ten things that made you feel good at work, or about your work, and why you felt that way.  

  • What drains your energy and why? Think back over the last two weeks. Try to name ten things that made you feel bad about your work or at work, and why you felt that way. 

  • What have you always been intrigued about doing, but never tried? (It could be a different job altogether, like branching into photography, or a different activity within your current work, like taking on a presentation.) 

 

What to try: 

  • Get in touch with an old colleague or mentor.  

Talk to someone whose career you admire to learn more about their work experiences. Note down anything that’s inspired you.  

  • Ask a friend or a colleague 

Ask someone who knows you well to share some of their favorite things about you. Note down anything that you’d never thought about before or that surprises you. 

  • Seek out new perspectives.  

You might try taking a course, going to a talk on a topic you’re interested in, or joining a webinar. At MeaningSphere, we offer lots of ways to connect with others and explore big questions related to your life at work. Join our Book Club, or take part in a Meaning Circle®—a small-group, virtual gathering that creates space in your day to reflect and get inspiration from others about how to make your work life more meaningful, judgment-free.   

  

Step three: Make sense of what you’re learning about yourself 

Two co-workers talking
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

In the previous step, you probably collected lots of ideas and thoughts about your work life and what matters to you. To make sense of all this new information you’ve collected, it’s important to take some time to reflect on what it is that you’re learning about yourself. At MeaningSphere, we follow a learning process developed by the psychologist Robert Carkhuff known as IEUA: Involve (I) – Explore (E) – Understand (U) – Act (A). In this process, Understand is a vital step, helping you make sense of what you’re learning and equipping you with new knowledge to be able to act. Without this important reflection step, you’ll likely be limited by your own perspective and biases—and miss vital new insights. 

 

Questions to ask yourself:  

  • What stands out to you from the insights you’ve collected? 

  • What deeper insights or new ideas have you uncovered? 

  • What surprised you or was most unexpected? 

  • Are any potential areas for action emerging? 

 

What to try: 

The Meaningful Work Inventory is a self-awareness experience driven by you, for you. It will  prompt you to reflect on your current work experience with a series of statements. Each of them focuses on an aspect of work that is either lifting you up or dragging you down. After taking the inventory, you’ll have the chance to purchase your personal, comprehensive report revealing your Personal Meaning Profile organized by the seven dimensions of meaningful work. Using your profile in the report enhanced with short videos and practical exercises, you’ll  have what you need to take stock of what lifts you up and drags you down, fueling new insights to inspire changes to your workday, big or small, for the better.      


  • Find someone who can help you make sense of what you’re learning.  

MeaningSphere Guides are helping professionals from different walks of life and are trained to help you make the most of your MeaningSphere experience. Your work with a Guide begins once you’ve taken the Meaningful Work Inventory. Your personal report serves as the  foundation for the conversation centered on what motivates you and what could be holding you back. For a short time with the purchase of a Meaningful Work Inventory report, we are offering a complimentary one-hour, virtual session with a MeaningSphere Guide to help you better understand and take action on your Inventory results.   


Take the Meaningful Work Inventory - go to our Services page

 

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