Some weeks are a blur and you go from one thing to the next. Last week was like that for me. I’m sure you’ve been there. You work hard, and grind through the daily tasks. You’re productive. But something is missing inside. If you’re like me, lurking in the background is the question: “At the end of the day, week, month, and years, will it add up to something meaningful?” We all want to do meaningful work—work that contributes to the well being of others in a way that uniquely expresses and defines who we are.
The problem is we often expect meaningful work to be given to us - to come from outside ourselves. If only the boss would give me the right project. If only the right job would land in my lap. Even if you get a job or project that has a direct line of sight to meaningful outcomes, you can still approach it in a way that doesn’t create meaning. In short, we often give away our responsibility to create meaning in our work.
Meaningful work isn’t given to us. Meaningful work is a work of art. We create meaningful work day in and day out. Or, put differently, we infuse our work with meaning. It involves what you do and how you do it. If you take small steps each day toward creating meaning in your work, you will express and define who you are in the meaning you create.
If you have a formal leadership position, your job is to create meaning for your team and organization. Even if you don’t have a formal leadership position, you can still create meaning for your team through your contributions and the way you approach your work. There are two compelling reasons why you should do this.
1. First, It contributes to the well being of your co-workers and your team as a whole, which is intrinsically valuable.
2. Second, meaning has market value. In their book, The Why of Work, Dave and Wendy Ulrich document the market value of meaningful work. Employees who find and create meaning in their work develop their competence more than those who don’t. They are more committed and productive. They stay longer and experience higher levels of job satisfaction. More engaged employees, in turn, leads to increased customer commitment.
Here are two tips to help you create meaningful work starting today.
1. Be mindful of connecting with people at work. Some aspects of your work may be not be directly linked to creating positive connections with people. But to the extent you interact with people, you can create meaning every day by treating people with kindness and compassion. At the end of the day, this is what people will remember when you move on or retire. They’ll remember the way you treated them and contributed to their well being. And that is the bedrock of meaning.
2. Identify your core motivations and gradually, but systematically, move towards them. Core motivations are the things you are uniquely and naturally motivated to do. These are the things that energize you, and that give you a sense of meaning and fulfillment because they express something core about your identity.
Here is an exercise that give you some clues as to your core motivations.
When you finish a task, note whether you feel relief or fulfillment. Relief means the task drains you and is probably not tapping into your core motivations. If you feel a sense of fulfillment, that is a sign that you’re tapping into your core motivations. You may be spent after a task, but it’s a “good” spent because you did something well and feel fulfilled, and even energized by the outcome. Note these tasks that fulfill you over a period of several weeks and then look for themes. As you identify these themes, start taking little steps to shift your work toward your core motivations. This is not something that will happen all at once. But small shifts over time can add up to work that is much more centered on your core motivations.
If you’re interested in going deeper and identifying your core motivations, you can check out the MCORE assessment here, which my team and I developed. You’ll receive a report that identifies your top 3 core motivations (as well as scores on all 27 core motivations) and exercises to help you live out your core motivations.
Here’s to infusing your work with meaning this week! Let me know how it goes.
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