How to Find Meaning in Your Job
Article by Shawn Achor
According to Yale professor and researcher Amy Wrzesniewski, Ph.D., people have one of three orientations toward their work:
- People with a job see work as a chore and the paycheck as their reward. They work because they have to.
- People with a career like the concept of advancing and succeeding.
- People with a calling find their work fulfilling and meaningful. They feel their work leverages their strengths and contributes to the greater good.
Unsurprisingly, people with a calling both find their work more rewarding and work harder and longer because of that. As a result, these people are generally more likely to get ahead.
Those who don’t have a calling orientation needn’t despair. Wrzesniewski’s most interesting finding is not that people relate to their work in one of these three ways, but that a person’s orientation toward their work doesn’t necessarily depend on the type of work they do. For example, there are doctors who see their work as a job and custodians who see their work as a calling. In fact, in one study of 24 administrative assistants, each orientation was represented in nearly equal thirds, even though each person’s job description, salary, and level of education were roughly identical.
No matter what job you have, you can find meaning in it. In my consulting work with companies, I encourage employees to rewrite their job description to be more calling-focused. I have them think about how the same tasks might be written in a way that would entice others to apply for the job. The goal is not to misrepresent the work they do, but to highlight the meaning that can be derived from it.
Next, I ask employees to think of their own personal goals in life. How can their current job tasks be connected to their larger purpose? Even the smallest tasks can be imbued with greater meaning when they are connected to personal goals and values. The more we can align our daily tasks with our personal visions, the more likely we are to see our work as a calling.
You can also try this quick exercise to find a small dose of meaning in your job:
- On a piece of paper, write down a mandatory work task you find devoid of meaning — perhaps something you dread doing.
- Ask yourself what the purpose of the task is, and then write down the answer.
- If that answer still seems devoid of meaning, ask yourself what this result leads to. Write down that answer.
- Continue this process until you find a meaningful result.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.