When you think about meaningful work, you think about Mother Theresa or Princess Diana or maybe Peace Corp workers or school teachers and nurses. All of these are great jobs that are meaningful. But, not everyone can raise money and attention to help get landmines cleared, nor can (or should) everyone try to teach second grade. And if blood makes you faint, nursing isn’t a great idea for you either.
So, how can you make your job meaningful work, even when it’s not directly making anyone’s life better? These five suggestions will change your job from tedious work to meaningful work.
Look at the Big Picture
Why does your job exist? You could be an HR manager, a grocery store cashier, or a CEO of a tech company. Each of these jobs is necessary to make the world a better place.
Because this is no longer an agrarian society, you need the grocery store cashier to get food. CEOs of well-managed companies provide not only goods and services to the community but jobs with paychecks for many people. And HR managers can make people’s lives much better by helping them progress in their careers, finding and providing the best benefits, and hiring great people.
If you just look at the tasks in front of you, you'll forget how you contribute to the community as a whole.
Treat Each Other With Kindness
A kind person can change everyone's day from drudgery to fun. Yes, work is still working, and sometimes it’s hard, but working with the right people can make you look forward to going to work even if the job is hard work.
One man who worked for a brewery as a delivery man could have seen his job as hard work and drudgery. After all, his job duty was to drive from restaurant to restaurant, carrying huge kegs of beer and taking out the old, empty ones. But, the people in many restaurants cheered when the beer guy came in with the beer kegs. Their act of kindness changed his job from drudgery to one that he loved.
If you stop and inquire about someone’s day, or follow up on how their new kitten or the new baby is doing, you’ll make them feel loved and appreciated. That’s meaningful right there. And the advantage of this for you is, as you are kind to others, the kindness spreads, and people will be helpful to you.
How does working hard make a job meaningful? Well, hard work often equals success. When you succeed in your job, you help others in your department succeed in their jobs. When your whole department succeeds, the company succeeds. That is pretty meaningful.
Additionally, hard work is easier than avoiding work. Think about it: when you have to worry if your boss knows how much time you’re spending surfing the internet, that adds another layer of complexity to your job. When you’re working hard all of the time, and your boss drops by, it’s not a big deal.
When you keep on top of your work, you have lowered stress levels. Now, of course, some people are overburdened and cannot accomplish everything. You might start feeling like “I can’t get everything done, so why bother?” These feelings of stress and failure can pose a huge temptation, but don’t give in. First of all, you’ll start to feel like your job just isn’t meaningful—it’s just work. Second, that adds additional stress on top of your head.
What you do instead is go to your boss and say directly, “I have five tasks on my plate right now. I can do four effectively, or I can do a lousy job on all five. Which would you prefer?” or “I have five tasks on my plate right now. I only have time to get three of them done. Which two should I skip?”
Look Outside of Your Job
Does your meaningful work have to be your day job? Of course not. Sometimes your day job can fund your meaningful work. Work-life balance means having a life. Whether it’s through your family, your church, your charity, your art, or whatever is important to you, you need a paycheck to support that.
You may consider your job as one that doesn’t contribute to the community and doesn’t make peoples' lives better, but if it provides for your family, then it is meaningful. If it allows you to donate to the poor and support meaningful causes, your job is meaningful work.
You don’t have to fulfill all of your needs through your paid job. You don’t even need to feel guilty that you’re working for a large corporation rather than a small non-profit. It’s not bad to earn money. You find your meaning in how you can spend that money.
Consider Changing Jobs
If you just can’t see how your current job is meaningful, and you can't figure out a way to make your job meaningful work, then perhaps it’s time for you to move on. If your job doesn’t bring you joy, doesn’t allow you to support your family or essential charitable causes, and doesn’t help the community, then maybe it’s not the right job for you.
No one has a skill set that is so tiny and so unique that there is only one job in the world that would suit them. And if you have no marketable skills, get training in new skills. You don’t have to invest in a college degree if that’s not your goal.
You can take online courses. Many MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are free or low-cost. You can enroll in a technical or vocational training class. There is no job more meaningful than a plumber, for instance. Think how the world has changed for the better due to running water and functioning sewer systems.
No matter your age, you’re not stuck, even if you think you are. You may have limitations based on your current situation, but you’re never truly stuck. If you want to find meaning in your job and work, figure out what you would need to have for it to become meaningful to you, and then go find it.
Meaningful work doesn’t have to be synonymous with charity work. Every single person can find meaning in your work and your lives. Hopefully, your work and purpose can overlap, but if not, you can still manage both.
The Bottom Line
Don’t limit yourself to your current situation. Change only happens when you want something better. If you want something better, a job that is more meaningful to you, do what it takes to find more meaningful work.