I have personally been asking myself how do I find more meaningful work for years. I’ve enjoyed being a marketing and content freelancer for many reasons - it’s interesting work, it accommodates my lifestyle, and it pays well - but sometimes I have a hard time getting away from the idea that I’m just helping support other people in living their dreams.
When I mentioned this to my mentor, he was empathetic. He reminded me that in our parent’s generation they had children much earlier and it contributed to much of their fulfillment. Instead of just going to a job, coming home, and doing something to satisfy any boredom, their job contributed to them supporting a family. This hour of work bought their kids new shoes.
So in today’s modern world, where people are waiting much longer to have families, or do not have families at all, what do you do to find more meaningful work?
There are a few different philosophies we’ll share in this article which will help give you more information in your quest for meaningful work.
Fortunately, you’re not alone in wanting to find more meaningful work. According to a Gallop study, only 13% of adults found their work meaningful. I know that stat can sound a bit depressing, but that doesn’t mean that 87% of people are unhappy in their jobs.
There are a lot of different resources out there to help you decide what’s ultimately right for you.
How to approach a career change
80,000 Hours is a non-profit that does research to help compile the ways you can use your career to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.
In addition to having a blog, and a podcast, they have this amazing resource that helps layout what it means to make a difference.
In their introduction, they share that the asset includes:
- The ethical and big picture views that inform our advice.
- Some neglected global problems we think are especially pressing to work on.
- Some ideas for career paths that especially help to address those problems.
- A list of career strategy considerations that are useful regardless of what problem you focus on.
- A process for planning your career in light of your strengths and personal priorities.
Wait But Why
Wait but Why is a long-form blog that tackles some of the most complicated ideas and breaks them down into simpler, more digestible, concepts. (And by long-form, some of these blogs are book-length).
In this Wait But Why article, the author breaks down How to Pick a Career (That actually fits you). It’s a framework to help you choose a career, or help you as you change your career. It includes many fun images, like the one shown below, to help illustrate it in a more digestible way.
One of the most helpful ideas he breaks down are the different areas that humans want in a career:
- Personal: self-esteem, achieving your potential, identity, passion, and meaning
- Lifestyle: ease, flexibility, means, freedom, and balance
- Social: power, appreciation, inclusion, respect, fame, status, and approval
- Moral: reducing suffering, the well-being of loved ones, improving the future and impact
- Practical: being not in debt, having food, security
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If you’re at the beginning of your career, or interested in changing careers, give this article a read to help you and try a successful framework.
There are many other resources that also help you better understand what would be fulfilling for you. From 10 Truths & Myths to Finding Meaningful Work, Why Finding Meaningful Work is Overrated, and the 5 Key Questions to Meaningful Work.
People have such strong opinions on this topic and how you should apply it in your life, so take everything with a grain of salt as you start sifting through. This is your life and it’s okay to not have the perfect answer or solution.
Gain career capital
One approach to fulfillment that many people talk about is gaining career capital. This is the premise of Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.
Career capital is the skills you have that are both rare and valuable and that can be used as leverage in defining your career. You can gain career capital in any role or job by doing a great job and moving up in your career (whether inside or outside an organization).
The higher you move up in the food chain of work, the more you’re able to find meaning within the job you have or have the resources to make more meaning.
Find meaning outside your work
Instead of working to find meaning inside of your work, look for opportunities to make meaning outside of it. There are a lot of different ways to do this depending on who you are and what you find meaningful or fulfilling.
From engaging in new hobbies that help watch yourself grow and gain new skills, to volunteering and helping different people, there are a lot of different ways to help find meaning in your life.
One way I found meaning outside of my work was by pushing myself in new ways - working remotely while traveling the world, meeting new people, and exploring a new culture. Starting a blog where I can share my writings and what I’ve learned, mentoring people who are working towards their own career, and now, I’m in the process of becoming a life coach, so I can help work directly with people in achieving their goals and build a career out of it.
Work with a career coach or life coach
The last area I’ll discuss is by hiring someone to help you figure this out. Working with a career coach or a life coach does include an investment in both time and money, but can be a huge support in helping you reach your potential.
This is work that you can do on your own, but what I’ve learned is that it helps you minimize different mistakes and paths, and helps you learn about you and ask the questions to help you succeed.
Once you've found a direction you want to have a more fulfilling career path, check out our article on How to Set Goals at Work to help you get started.