Does Your Work Have Meaning?

When your work feels like an exercise in futility you may try to make up for your dissatisfaction on the weekend with volunteering, hobbies, travel, love affairs, drink, food or other escapes. By noon on Monday you are deflated, counting the days until next Friday. You wonder if that’s all there is to your life. When you consider the health problems that plague so many people, it’s not too great a stretch to conclude that many feel trapped in work they hate.

If you are not enjoying your work it could be that you don’t know what kind of job or business is best for you. Perhaps your creativity is stifled. Or you clash with supervisors, or you are disenchanted with corporate politics and structure. You feel a general boredom; you need a new challenge but cannot, for one reason or another, focus on which steps to take to solve the career problem.

Like many people, you may think that money is the solution: “if only I had __dollars I would do what I want to do.” This is a common fallacy often demonstrated in the lives of those who win the lottery. Because money comes too quickly and without effort, lottery winners lack the skills to handle the changes wealth makes in their lives. Many of these people wind up losing the money they won. Too late they discover that contentment is the result of loving what you are doing, not of how much money you have in the bank.

A Sense of Urgency

The creative self thrives on a sense of urgency, rather than ease and comfort. This is why my most challenging clients are those who have large trust funds or inheritances. Because they feel no pressure to create they procrastinate, scatter their energies, or worry about losing the money they have. As a result, the creative self sleeps, like a warrior under a tree who has no battle to fight. Conversely, my best clients are those who describe themselves as desperate. They tell me they will do anything that helps them to find satisfying work.

A Sense of Accomplishment

The Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky learned firsthand the importance of being satisfied with the outcome of your work. When he was put in prison for holding views that ran counter to those of the authorities, Dostoyevsky was moved by the misery of prisoners who were assigned to carry a huge pile of sand from one side of the camp to the other. Each day, every week, for months on end, they carried the same sand in wheelbarrows back and forth across the camp. Some of the prisoners were in such despair they threw themselves on the electrified barbed wire fence and committed suicide.

By contrast, in another prison camp Dostoyevsky noticed that the prisoners sang as they went to and from work each day. These men were building a railroad, so at the end of each day they felt a sense of accomplishment. This led Dostoyevsky to conclude that people can feel content–even in a prison camp–if their work has meaning.

Breaking Free

To find the work that has meaning to you, it helps to think about nature’s way. You don’t find a majestic redwood tree growing in the desert. If you have always valued solitude and room to grow don’t plant yourself in a big corporation. Find the niche in work that rewards your love of working alone: a small business with fewer than twenty employees, or your own small business or private practice.

On the other hand, if you are the Zinnia that thrives in the hot sun, go where there is plenty of action and interaction with co-workers, customers or clients, such as a job in sales, media, or working on a team that pulls together for a common goal. If you are somewhere between a shade and heat plant it’s best to work with one other person, or with a small group of people.

The key to knowing the right niche is to know what is important to you, and what you need to be the most productive (only you know what this is). You may have to try several niches before you get it right, but start by assuming the environment in which you can reach your full potential and make the money you need is available.

You Could Be in the Right Niche

Before you move to a new environment, look around you. Have you done everything you can to improve this situation? If you have your own business or practice do you need to upgrade your methods, or cut back so you can do what you want to do? If you work for someone else, ask the powers that be in the organization if there is a better use for your talents. Maybe you just need to change your attitude about the job you have. You could be doing too much and then assuming that the job is the problem, when really it’s your tendency to overwork.

Even working in a job you love feels wrong if you do too much of it. Modify your schedule and see if that makes you feel better before you move to another job. It could be that you are not taking enough risks where you are, or you are not taking advantage of the opportunities in front of you. If this is the case don’t move to another job. Work out the problem where you are. When you do leave, do so only after you’ve given your all. Everyone notices excellence, so leave any situation when you are feeling confident and complete, not angry and resentful. Otherwise you will repeat the conflict in the next place you go.

Help Will Come

As Dostoyevsky learned when he was in the prison camps, it is through the dignity of the work we do that we achieve self-esteem.  This is also true about the work we put into relationships. Rest assured, when you know what you want to do with your whole heart and soul, and you have the courage to act on this desire, help will come from the most surprising places.

Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion, How to Do What You Love For a Living, and Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond, Reach Your Full Potential and Make the Money You Need. Her website is workwithpassion.com.