How to Find Meaning In Your Work

By Ali Luke

January 25, 2010   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

You have days when there just seems no point to what you’re doing – where it all feels futile or meaningless. Your motivation is low, yet the work still needs to be done.

You might work for an employer, or you might be self-employed. Your “work” might be paid, or it might be unpaid – being a full-time parent, or studying for a degree, for instance.

Whatever your situation, here’s how to find meaning in your work, and to get your motivation back.

Think About Your Values
What’s truly important to you? Maybe it’s your family, your health, or your career. Maybe it’s simply having the time to enjoy yourself and do things that you love.

In the light of your key values, how does your work look? Perhaps the dull admin tasks are worth it because they help you provide for your family. Maybe pushing yourself to get through something you don’t really enjoy much will further your career. Or, at the very least, getting this bit of work done can buy you some free time to do what you really want.

Look at the End Result
However much you enjoy your job or your life as a whole, there’ll be tasks which you simply don’t like doing. The point is to have them done. When you do the dishes, it’s not because you love playing with soapy water – it’s because you want to keep your kitchen clean.

Almost any work task becomes more meaningful when you work out what you’re trying to accomplish, and what the end result will be. (If the end result really does seem to be meaningless, then you might question whether you actually need to do that task at all.) If you are a manager and have staff reporting to you, consider giving your employees a full explanation on “why” they are doing something.

Learn Something New
On tasks which are hard, tedious or which don’t seem to lead to anything, can you focus on what you’re learning during the process? Often, learning something new means starting off with basics, and it might not be very exciting. But you need to work through very easy tasks before you can move on to harder, more interesting, ones.

If you start learning computer programming, for instance, your first program is likely to do nothing more than display the words Hello, World. But you have to get through that early stage before you can ever create anything more exiting.

Figure Out Who You’re Helping
If you’re really struggling to find any meaning for yourself in your work, then think about the person or people who you’re helping. Perhaps you’re a stay-at-home parent, and vacuuming the house really isn’t your idea of fun: you might not even care about having the floor clean – after all, it’ll only get messy again. But you know that your partner really appreciates coming home to a tidy, clean house.

When you think about it, most tasks you’re engaged in will have a benefit for someone. When I worked in technical support and testing, I stayed motivated through boring tasks by thinking about the people who’d be using the software – by doing a good job, I could make their lives a bit easier.

Take Pride in Doing a Good Job
Finally, if you’re struggling to find objective meaning in your work, then focus on yourself as a person. Many of us get satisfaction from doing a job well, regardless of whether that job is interesting, or whether it seems to have any importance. Even if you know that the boss won’t be checking up on you, and that shoddy mistakes will go unnoticed for months, you can still find meaning in simply doing your best.

It’s good to be able to tell yourself I gave 100%. I didn’t cut corners. Fostering that sort of attitude is meaningful and important, because that sort of attention and diligence in little things will lead you to success in the long-term.

Written on 1/25/2010 by Ali Hale. Ali is a professional writer and blogger, and a part-time postgraduate student of creative writing. If you need a hand with any sort of written project, drop her a line ([email protected]) or check out her website at Aliventures. Photo Credit: totalAldo
Ali Luke

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