You probably aspire to have purpose or meaning in your career, but are you actually taking practical steps to make sure you’re doing something you genuinely care about?
You just need to know how to make the job decisions that lead to satisfaction. “We look for things that we’re proud to talk about at a cocktail party or that look good on a résumé”, says Nathaniel Koloc, the CEO of ReWork. But rarely are those the things that translate to happiness. Here are principles you can follow to build a professional life you don’t just enjoy, but love.
- Make a prioritized list of what “meaningful” means to you. Don’t just look to obvious things, like salary, title, or prestige of the company. Think about the concrete outcomes of your work. What do you want to achieve? Which strengths do you want to improve? If you’re unsure what matters most to you, think through a given day or week at work. Ask yourself: What made me most happy? What did I find most frustrating?
- Invite four or five people to serve as a board of advisors as you explore what you want. You might tell them, “I’m doing some exploring about what I want from work, and I’d love to talk with you on occasion to get your feedback on my direction.” Be careful about including family members, as they probably know what you’re doing, but they may not be best positioned to help you making different plans.
- Experiment with different elements of a job that you’d want either in your current position, outside work, or through conversations with people. “Test drive” your hypotheses. There are a variety of ways to do this. First, you can try things out within an existing job: you can take on a new assignment that allows you to try out new skills. Find people who are doing what you think you want to do and ask them lots of questions.
- Don’t focus on your next role – instead, think about what you want from work over the long term. Don’t ask yourself “What job do I want?” but “What life do I want?” Think about where you want to be in five, 10, 20 years. Think strategically. Career design requires something different than a job-search approach.
- Don’t let the stage of your career hold you back – even those deep into their careers can make changes “You may feel locked into a job, a higher salary, or a higher title because you have more responsibilities, such as a mort- gage and kids, and sure, you may need to take fewer risks, but you don’t want to settle for a job or career you’re not happy with,” says Dillon.
- Don’t neglect your finances so that when you want to make a change, you don’t feel you can. One of the main reasons people give for staying in a job (or career) they don’t love is money. Accept the idea of an initial lower income, if necessary. Make a budget. Create a financial buffer. Downsize your lifestyle and be more disciplined about saving. This will make it more likely that when you find something meaningful, you’ll be able to act on it. A friend of mine has just quit his executive job and started organizing cooking classes, he gained a lot in happiness.
Further reading: How Will You Measure Your Life? by C. Christensen, J. Allworth, K. Dillon (HarperCollins, 2012)