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Making work meaningful

These days, many of us are re-evaluating the way we spend our time, trying to understand whether the work and life we have created for ourselves is what we really want.

You are not alone

According to the New York Times, more than 40 million Americans left their jobs last year looking for better opportunities in a mass exodus called the Great Resignation.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we all want to up and quit our current job, but many of us are looking for more meaning and purpose in our work – work that will fulfill us, bring us joy or help us feel ‘well used,’ as a friend of mine would say.

This growing urge to question our choices can hit us during different phases of life. For me, turning 40 was a huge deal. Since just before that big birthday, I’ve been shifting towards work that creates greater alignment between who I am and what I do, all while managing to pay the bills. Ideally, I want to show up as me, in all aspects of my life and feel a sense of purpose while doing it.

And, for the most part, I have managed it. I can honestly say that I have curated my work so that it feels meaningful and purposeful, most of the time. However, it has definitely been a journey to get here, and it remains something I need to consistently re-examine.

Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. It explores the idea that, on average, we have about four thousand weeks of life to live. Four thousand weeks with which to create a meaningful life. Burkeman references Thomas Wolfe, who said, “We are the sum of all the moments of our lives, all that is ours is in them: we cannot escape it or conceal it.” And, of course, a huge percentage of those moments is taken up by our work. Know yourself (and how you get in your own way!)

In my work choices, a big shift has come through my conscious decision and effort to know myself better. To be aware of what’s most important to me, the colleagues I most want to work with and the people I most want to serve.

As I’ve gotten to know myself better, I have become more and more aware of all the ways I get in my own way and prevent myself from moving towards the work that I really want. All of the roadblocks I create based on the stories and expectations I hold onto.

My own version of the Great Resignation took place about 10 years ago now. I decided to leave a government job and start my own consulting business, and soon after I began that journey, I decided to train as a coach.

Once I decided that THAT was part of the meaningful work I really wanted to do, my first step was to immediately panic. With my background in strategic communications, no one was ever going to hire me! I needed to find a niche and get a brand, and I needed to get it asap!

My second step was to immediately panic – I would lose all the clients that I had worked so hard to develop as a consultant because I was now a coach! And what the hell was that anyway?!

It was only once I realized that I get to bring all of me, my expertise, my experience and my skills, to whatever I do, that it became much simpler. Not easier, but simpler. I am my brand, so whoever and whatever I am as a unique human being in this world is all part of that. This is the same process whether you are trying to build a business, or trying to change careers, or refocus the way you approach your current job.

Ask big, brave questions

You have so much to offer. Everything that makes you you is important. So, your primary job is to figure you out and get clear on the life and work you want by grappling with big questions.

Sure, you need to get clear…What do I want to be when I grow up? Do I want to be primarily working from home? Do I want to be out and engaging with colleagues consistently? Am I comfortable working 40 hours a week? Am I happy to work 60 as long as I have a flexible schedule? Do I want to commute? How much do I want to make? How much do I need to make?...

But more importantly, it’s wrestling with questions like…When do I find myself in flow? What is my purpose? Who do I want to serve? What makes me unique? What do I care about? What is non-negotiable? What are my values?...

There is no ‘right’ way to go about creating meaningful work. There is only your way. Once you let go of old expectations (both yours and others’), you strip away all the things that are actually getting in the way of the work and life you want. Only you can decide what is right for you. You get to create it. That can be scary, but also exhilarating. Kinda like life. Once you are willing to get uncomfortable and confront all the stories that you have been spinning, to get to what is real, then you can start to identify and go after the meaningful work life that you have been longing for.

Disclaimer: this is not easy, and it won’t happen overnight. There will be good days and bad days. It will take work and effort and time – time to put yourself out there, maybe a willingness to be paid less in the short term in order to switch gears, money to invest in training that will get your skills where they need to be, or effort to be seen at your current job and help others understand who you are and all that you offer. But what better way to spend some of those four thousand weeks than getting to know you?

So, what if you also trusted you? What if you listened deeply, not to the endless judgements and stories you tell yourself, but the authentic and true voice inside you that knows what it wants? This may mean you have a very clear vision that is just raring to be let loose in the world but, more often, we have a small inkling about what a step in the right direction could be. Carl Jung said, “if you do with conviction the next and most necessary thing, you are always doing something meaningful and intended by fate.” If there is no ‘right’ answer, why not explore what a first step could look like – the next and most necessary step? You have everything you need.

You have so much wisdom about what your path can look like. The key is to get quiet, listen to you (your intuition) and trust yourself.

You don’t need someone to tell you how. Seeking advice and guidance from others who have been on their own journey can be incredibly helpful, but you are the only one who can make these decisions for you. Only you know you. Only you see your vision. What can be helpful is someone (friend, partner, coach) who will help draw out your natural wisdom and provide support and healthy accountability as you embrace your journey towards the meaningful work you want. You’ve got this.

Sherie Hodds

Sherie Hodds is a ChangeMaker Nation Coach. She has spent more than 15 years working with people and businesses to develop and implement their strategies, helping to shape and share the great stories being produced at home and around the world.

I did a lot of exploring, connecting and training to create work I love, and bring more joy to more people in more organizations. I can’t tell you how great it is to do this work now, and witness a stuck team break through, a quiet vision living loud, a start-up successfully scale-up and a client realize their potential. I’m telling you – you’ve got what you need. Let’s get to work.

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