Work isn’t supposed to be pleasant. It’s just work – a way to pay the bills and support ourselves and our families. So, if we expect to do work that we truly love, we’re just setting ourselves up for disappointment. Abusive bosses, nasty colleagues, boredom, stagnation, frustration, long hours, lack of a personal life, and a host of other workplace ills come with the territory. We must put up to survive.
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We’re the happiest and most successful when we’re doing work that we truly love – meaningful work – which is the outward expression of our inner selves. Meaningful work is rooted in our personal values, passions, and innate strengths. When we’re doing meaningful work, we’re working with purpose. This purpose drives us forward and helps us keep difficult coworkers, frustrations, unpleasant tasks, and obstacles in perspective.
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Two very different mindsets. The first assumes there’s not much we can do to find enjoyment in our work. The second is based on the belief that we have the potential to realize the career that we want.
Which one best describes you? Have you bought into work being nothing more than a paycheck, or do you yearn for work that excites and energizes you? Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle – desiring meaningful work, but not sure if it’s a realistic expectation.
It takes courage to go for what we want in life. Fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt can stop us in our tracks. Sometimes we’re more comfortable with what we know than what we haven’t yet experienced – even when we’re in pain. So, if you’re straddling the fence between putting up with a job that you hate and transforming your career, ask yourself these three questions:
- At what point does my current job become irretrievably bad?
- Why should I put my own career needs and desires first?
- How can I discover and realize my vision and mission for meaningful work?
At what point does my current job become irretrievably bad?
Do you find yourself constantly daydreaming about escaping from a toxic work culture? Are you dreading Monday mornings because you’re facing long hours on the treadmill of a difficult manager, too much work without enough time, passive-aggressive team members, endless meetings, and most importantly – an inability to make a positive impact on your organization? Does your work lack purpose? Does all of this leave you feeling burned out, uninspired, stalled, or disengaged? Are your physical health, mental state, and personal life suffering as a result?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s time to step off the treadmill and seriously consider a career transformation. You may have been “sucking it up” because you’ve told yourself that you need the paycheck and benefits. But, no job is worth sacrificing your well- being. It may be wise to set a time limit on staying in your current job while exploring your options.
Why should I put my own career needs and desires first?
You may have stayed in your current job to fulfill the expectations of others – consciously or unconsciously. This can include family members who rely on your financial support, a manager who demands loyalty, peers or subordinates who seek your guidance. You can even feel pressure from your workplace culture, which shames you into working harder than you should.
At some point, you must ask yourself whether you’re trying to meet everyone’s needs but your own. Yes, you may have financial commitments to a family, but that doesn’t mean you should completely sacrifice your own needs, desires, and well-being. If you’re so burned out and disheartened that your physical and mental health are at risk, this can put your job at risk too. And, no manager, colleague, or workplace culture is as important as your career fulfillment and well-being.
So, if you have consistently put yourself last, it may be time to rearrange your priorities. Everyone around you will benefit if you’re doing work that excites and energizes you because you’ll be happier, healthier, and more emotionally available for others. And, you’ll be more effective in a career that you truly love because you’ll be really good at what you do.
How can I discover and realize my vision and mission for meaningful work?
Meaningful work is rooted in the intrinsic motivators of values, passions, and innate strengths. When you enact your values, live your passions, and leverage your innate strengths in your work, your motivation is coming from within yourself. This is in contrast to such extrinsic, superficial motivators as money or prestige. Your unique combination of values, passions, and strengths will naturally drive your vision for meaningful work – what work you want to do – and your mission – why you want to do this work (the purpose it serves).
But, how do you make your vision and mission a reality? By creating and executing a practical career transition plan. Such a plan should address your employment options and requirements, education or training you may need, lifestyle implications, and resources of time and money. Once you have your plan, it can feel daunting to see it through to completion. It requires commitment, focus on the end game, a positive mindset, willingness to do what it takes, and self care to sustain you through the process.
It’s up to each of us
Discovering and realizing meaningful work is absolutely achievable. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, said, “It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.” Each of us has the possibility of intentionally choosing work that is personally meaningful.
Life presents us with many opportunities to take different paths. We don’t have to remain stuck in miserable jobs or toxic work environments. We can go for positive change and transform our careers. It’s up to each of us whether or not we make that choice.