More Thoughts on Meaningful Work

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Part 2: Mindset Gives Meaning

According to Amy Wrzesniewski, a Yale University researcher, meaningful work is a result of mindset, not in the job title or position.  She found that a person is happier if he or she sees their work as a “calling” – not just a job. And the meaning is perceived by the person, not by the actual work.

To make the shift from seeing your work as just work to seeing it as a calling, here are steps you can practice.

  1. Check Your Attitude

    Growing up, my mother used to tell us kids that we needed an “Attitude Adjustment.” This was her way of saying that she didn’t like our complaining or moaning about whatever she asked us to do. As an adult, I agree.Our brains have a negativity bias, which means “even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things.” Simply put, our brain searches for and holds onto whatever is not right, not going well, hurts, pains, or scares us. This is an instinct that helped us stay alive for a long time and now it’s making us miserable.Despite this bias, it IS possible to teach our brain to create more pathways for things that bring us joy, happiness and are positive and fulfilling.Start by being aware of negative self-talk, or the stories you are telling yourself that don’t serve you. By building this awareness, you can then choose a different story to believe. Write down and tell yourself daily (even multiple times a day) the new positive story or belief you want. If you are struggling with writing a new story, ask a friend to help.It’s ok if you don’t believe the new story entirely at first. If you tell yourself the new belief, your brain will start looking for information to support it. It takes time.Another practice is to savor the positive. Often, we brush past the good stuff so fast we hardly notice it and later find it difficult to remember. So, when something good happens (regardless of how small), stop, take it in and be present to it. Feel it in your body and make it last as long as possible. This helps the brain create more space for the good stuff and build those pathways (the good kind).

    If you’re still struggling with the belief that “other jobs can be seen as a calling, but not mine,” then I highly recommend the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.

  2. Connect to the Big Picture

    Wrzesniewski suggests that making the shift in attitude towards seeing your work as a calling starts with seeing how your work connects to the bigger picture (she explains in detail here). The gist of her recommendation is that you need to reframe how you see your work so that it has a greater emphasis on service and craftsmanship.Do you know how your specific job connects to the bigger picture? Do you know that your part is just as important as all the other parts?Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take, explains, “At the heart of meaningful work is the belief that your job makes other people’s lives better. When that belief gets shaken, ask, ‘Who would be worse off if my job didn’t exist?’ The names you generate are the reason your work matters.”

If you want to feel your job has more meaning, then you need to connect the dots to what you do and how it offers service to others and gives you an opportunity to make an impact.

I’ll use how I do this in my own work as an example.

I coach high-achieving women so they can mentally and emotionally thrive at work. I could see this as just a job (not a calling) that anyone could do.

  • I could buy into the belief that I don’t offer anything special to the women I help and that any coach can fill my place.
  • I could listen to the story that my coaching only helps a few people and that they likely forget most of what we do in a coaching session anyway.

(Wow, it felt horrible just writing that.)

The other option is to see my work as a calling.

  • I can recognize that my combined experience and skills create a unique voice and approach that impacts my coaching clients and helps them thrive at work, both mentally and emotionally.
  • I can choose to believe that coaching allows me to go deeper with my own growth and development in order to master my craft.
  • I can find fulfillment in the fact that I am privileged to be trusted by women who are high-achieving influencers in their world, and that by them thriving, they can have a positive impact on their families, friends, co-workers, and teams. The things we discover in a coaching session are just the beginning – my clients are continuing to learn and grow between sessions and will continue long after we stop working together. I’m teaching them to coach themselves and others, which expands my coach influence beyond just one person. And that coaching has the power to shift how we think, learn, develop and create, making the world a better place.

(That felt much better…I think I just inspired myself in the process of writing that.)

Meaningful work is all about choosing to see your work as part of a bigger picture and ensuring the bigger picture has meaning to you.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Wrapping It Up – Reflections on Meaningful Work

Do you need help making a mindset shift to see your work differently? Do you need help figuring out your strengths and knowing where to spend your energy? Did you just realize you need to change your jobs and the thought terrifies you? If so, I’m here for you. Connect with me to schedule a complimentary Strategy Session.