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Leadership Thought #369 – Finding Meaning In Your Work

June 13, 2012

Free Woman in Black Blazer Holding Red Book Stock Photo

Most of us need to find more meaning in our work.  Every survey you read about work/career satisfaction is depressing.  I can’t believe that so many people go to a job every day that they don’t like and/or are doing work they find uninspiring.  Why would someone choose to live that way?  I’ve never quite understood the whole idea of simply working until you retire.  As people must work for longer periods of time due to lack of pensions and/or other financial resources, this means that individuals will be unhappier for longer periods of time with their jobs.  What a drag!

There is dignity in all work.  While you may not be thrilled with the tasks you are doing, there are other ways to find meaning and purpose through your work.  A hospital janitor can see his/her role as creating an infection-free environment that accelerates patient recovery.  A retail store salesclerk can see themselves as a product expert who helps customers solve problems and make educated decisions.  A landscape worker can see the results of their work as an effort to make the world a more beautiful place.  It’s an unpleasant fact that much of our happiness is not really a function of what happens to us but how we choose to feel about it.  Why choose to be unhappy about something you must do for a significant part of your life?

The simple answer is that if you don’t like what you are doing, then do something else.  However, as with all simple answers to complicated issues, the implementation of the concept isn’t always that easy.  Sure, you can job hop every time you hit a bump in the road, but is that wise?  You ever notice how patterns seem to reappear until you address the core issues creating them?

Feeling empowered and taking control of your life is a good thing.  Exiting situations at the first sign of adversity diminish rather than build your character.  Regularly blaming others for your unhappiness only creates a “victim mentality.”  You also can’t expect to feel happy and fulfilled all the time.  Not only is this a Pollyannaish and unrealistic mindset, but it will also be exhausting for you and those around you.  Part of becoming a responsible adult is learning how to make the best of any given situation.

I hope that you feel you do work that has purpose and meaning.  If not, I encourage you to try and find it.  Staring at the clock and counting the minutes until the workday is over is no way to live.  Waiting until retirement to feel fulfilled and happy is a risky life proposition.  You can certainly change jobs but changing something doesn’t always make life better.  The most effective personal change always comes from the inside out not the outside in.