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March 29, 2010

Meaning & Work: A different recipe for each of us

(image courtesy of antdesign)

People often talk to us about “meaningful work”. We frequently have women tell us that they started their own business because they wanted to do something that was meaningful to them. We also hear countless people who are dissatisfied with their jobs talk about how their work isn’t meaningful.

During these conversations two things always come to mind and sometimes become part of the conversation.

1. Sometimes people don’t realize that figuring out what “meaningful” work means to you is actually hard work in and of itself. It can take some time and experimentation to get clear about this. But regardless it is a part of normal career development and the answer is unique to each person. It is not a given, and it is frustrating when people expect it to be obvious or, worse, when they expect meaningful work to find them.

Of course hindsight is 20/20 when it comes to this. Most of us can craft pretty articulate and clever explanations about how we arrived where we are today. Of course as we were experiencing our own journeys it didn’t feel so clear or purposeful. That being said, most of us who find ourselves doing things we believe are meaningful have experimented along the way, trying things in order to get closer to work that made us happy and that leverage our strengths (and thus don’t feel as much like “work”). And these experiments are not without risks, but they are also not without rewards.

2. On the flip side, sometimes people get too caught up in the overall “meaning” of their work. They expect it to be the ‘be all and end all’ of what’s important. They want their meaningful job or business to fulfill all their needs. Just like your partner can meet every single one of your emotional/social needs (that’s what colleagues and girlfriends are for), your business can meet all of your intellectual and fulfillment needs either. Expecting it to do so is a sure recipe for disappointment.

More than that, it is important to recognize that each one of us work for different reasons. For some work may be infused with passion, for others it may be a means to an end, for others it may be the right combination of financial reward and freedom/flexibility. For others still, work may primarily serve as a creative expression.
What’s most important is that you know what work means to you, and to realize that it may mean different things to you over the course of your career and at different times in your life. The consistent factor is that you are in the driver’s seat and it is up to you to determine what is important and worth experimenting and pursuing at each and every stage.

So with that…what does work mean to you? Are you engaged in work that is fulfilling your needs?

Also read: Entrepreneurship: Meaningful work for your mind, body, and soul

Posted by Amy Abrams & Adelaide Lancaster

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