We all aspire to find meaning and purpose in our careers, whatever our line of work maybe, but the question is how do you actually do that? I feel like somewhat of an expert on the topic having explored different fields of study from Physics to European studies. In addition to that, I have considered going into the business world but eventually ending up working in development.
I do feel that the work I do now is more in line with my long-term goal which is to work in the intersection of educational development and girls/women’s issues. Had I taken the time to ask myself some key questions years ago and really try to answer them based on a true understanding of my want, needs, and aspirations, I may have arrived at this finding a long time ago.
Through this post, I’d like to share with you some practical steps you can take to make sure that you don’t stay stuck in a career that’s not meant for you but rather you are empowered to find a career that allows you to do the things you genuinely care most about.
1. Define what “meaningful” looks like to you
Conventional wisdom may indicate that a meaningful and successful career is one that brings loads of money, recognition, and fame. And maybe that is true for some people, but is that true for you?
You need to take a moment of self-reflection and truly consider what a meaningful career looks like for you and how that fits into the context of a meaningful life.
Personally, when trying to decide what a meaningful career looked like, I tried to consider how my intended career weighed against the following factors: legacy, mastery, freedom, and alignment
Look at the list of things you will have to achieve on this job and ask yourself if these are things you enjoy doing and can see yourself doing for an extended period of time. It’s not always going to be rainbows and roses, and so even on the mundane days, you have to ask yourself if you would be willing to stick it out).
Are you creative and like to think outside the box? Do you like to follow rules and preserve order? How well do you handle uncertainty? Do you like being told what to do or do you prefer to be left to your own devices most of the time? Are you good at convincing others to do things or do you prefer to let the numbers do the talking?
Will your career allow you achieve the things you want to professionally while allowing you to stay true to yourself?
Make a list of all the things you know you kick-ass at and totally dominate. Are you a good writer, speaker, convener, motivator, team player, thinker?
Does the career you’ve chosen put you in a position where you can display your mastery of these skills? Are there other skills that you have a feeling that if given the opportunity to do so you could master easily? Would this career afford you that opportunity?
I think we all know intuitively what this means. Whatever career you choose, it’s going to come with some constraints i.e. salary, benefits, vacation days, perks, how much you get to travel etc.
When you imagine yourself living your best and freest life, what does this look like? Will this career allow you to achieve that vision of freedom that you have?
When it comes to alignment, the question you have to ask yourself is whether your chosen career is in line with your personal values and the type of work culture that you value. This requires a bit of research and digging to find accounts from people who have worked there.
For instance, a company might be well-known for fostering creativity but also condoning a culture of misogyny (Uber anyone?). You need to be able to determine for yourself whether the culture that exists is one you see yourself fitting into seamlessly or whether it is one where you are willing to change to adapt to.
2. Think long term
Thanks to advances in modern medicine, people are living longer which means that for our generation, retirement age is probably going to increase. Chances are whatever career you do commit to you’re going to be in it for a long time.
So rather than thinking “What job do I want right now”, think “What life do I want 50 years from now”. And then find the career that fits into that. Find a career that you can see yourself doing 10, 20, 30 years from now. One that excites you and you feel will have room to allow you to grow in the direction of your long-term goals.
3. Be honest about your finances
One of the main reasons that people stay stuck in a job or career that they don’t love is because of money. Either the money is too good to leave or the money is so bad they can’t afford to leave. But know this, you deserve to find a career that you find meaningful and fulfilling.
So start today, start with what you have and create a “financial cushion” that will enable you to get started on that journey towards career bliss and psychological freedom. Make a budget and stick to it, give yourself a timeline, start exploring other opportunities and when the time is right, make your grand exit and follow your dreams.
4. Give time some time
No one likes to hear this, but things take time and as the saying goes “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who’ve known what they wanted to be from birth or whose first business idea took off, chances are you’re going to spend some time going through ideas that fail and jobs that you don’t like or downright hate. Consider it all a learning process.
For every experience you’ve had, make time to think about it critically and consider what worked and what didn’t, what you loved and what you didn’t like, what you want to do more of and what you want to swear off completely.
Talk to a lot of people, find people you trust and people you admire and ask them for advice and for their opinions. Keep searching and keep applying yourself and your efforts will be rewarded. Eventually, you will find yourself in a career that you love through dedication and perseverance, and when you’re there you will know that all the efforts and sacrifices you made to get there were worth it.
Do you have any thoughts regarding what it takes to find and pursue a meaningful career? Do you identify as one of those people who is living their dream life and following their passions? If so, let us know how you managed to figure out the “magic formula”.