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How To Find Meaning in Your Work – Even When It Feels Hard

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A hand holds a compass in front of a hiking trail.

How To Find Meaning in Your Work – Even When It Feels Hard

For many of us, especially those in service-based businesses such as healthcare, consulting, fundraising and the like, we thrive on providing value for others. We live to serve and see our work as an opportunity to make a difference. We care deeply. And we give all of ourselves.

Sometimes, though, in the humdrum and trappings of modern work, we can lose sight of how our work connects to something bigger. The pressure of organizational structure weighs heavy, we focus on the non-essential and never-ending to-do’s and get crushed by the scope of it all.

When we lose connection with what gives us meaning, we are infinitely more apt to flame out and throw our hands up in despair.

Especially when we care. Especially when we work our asses off.

And when desperation hits, we become emotionally exhausted, our cynicism peaks, and our job performance declines. Cue the downward burnout cycle.

For some lines of work, like those who practice medicine, considerable research has been done to help address this chronic, systemic problem. For physicians in particular (one of the most demanding jobs in modern society, in my humble opinion), research shows that when they are able to carve out 20% of their role for work they find personally fulfilling, such as a research project that contributes to an issue they feel passionately about, they are significantly less likely to experience the effects of burnout. Even when working 100 plus hours a week and experiencing chronic sleep deprivation, finding work that’s meaningful makes that big of a difference. If meaning matters that much for them, there’s got to be value in it for the rest of us, too.

So, how do you and I go about finding meaning in our jobs? Here’s a start.

1. Step Back

Gain some perspective on how your work fits into the broader whole, how you contribute to something beyond pushing papers and answering emails.

2. Ask Yourself

How does my work make a positive difference for those I work with and those I serve? What’s my impact on my community or society as a whole, even indirectly?

3. Find Patterns

Explore ways in which your positive impact reflects what matters most to you – your values – and demonstrates what your ultimate calling, or purpose, might be.

4. Connect and Share

When we share about what lights our heart up and how we get to experience a piece of that magic in our work, the positive emotion amplifies. We appreciate ourselves more. We see our colleagues in a softer, more graceful light. Our passion and care creates more passion and caring for those around us. Research says so.

Connecting back to our work’s meaning is one practice we must never abandon if we are committed to thriving, not surviving. I encourage you to find some time this week to recall why you do what you do, what meaning it inspires in you, and breathe in fully appreciating that you do matter and your work is valued.

I promise it will be worth it.

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