Make the Leap to Meaningful Work
The idea of fulfilling work—a job that reflects our passions, talents, and values—is a modern invention. If you count yourself amongst those who are unhappy in their job—or at least have that occasional niggling feeling that your work and self are out of alignment—how are you supposed to go about finding a meaningful career? What does it take to overcome the fear of change and negotiate the labyrinth of choices, especially in tough economic times?
Here are six tips that you can practice to make your career more meaningful.
1. Accept confusion:
First, a consoling thought: Feeling confused about career choice is perfectly normal and utterly understandable. We can become so anxious about making the wrong choice that we end up making no choice at all, staying in jobs that we have long grown out of. We need to recognise that confusion is natural, and get ready to move beyond it.
2. Don’t pigeonhole yourself:
Many people are enticed by personality tests, which claim to be able to assess your character then point you towards a job that is just right for you. It’s a reassuring idea, but the evidence for their usefulness is flimsy. Don’t let any anyone tell you what you can and can’t be on the basis of a personality pigeonhole they want to put you in.
3. Aim to be a wide achiever, not a high achiever:
It makes more sense to embrace the idea of being a “wide achiever” rather than a high achiever. Take inspiration from Renaissance generalists like Leonardo da Vinci who would paint one day, then do some mechanical engineering, followed by a few anatomy experiments on the weekend.
Today this is called being a “portfolio worker,” doing several jobs simultaneously, often on a freelance basis. Management thinker Charles Handy says this is not just a good way of spreading risk in an insecure job market, but is an extraordinary opportunity made possible by the rise of flexible working: “For the first time in the human experience, we have a chance to shape our work to suit the way we live instead of our lives to fit our work. We would be mad to miss the chance.”
4. Find where you values and talents meet:
Find an ethical career, focused on values and issues that matter to you, and which also allows you to do what you’re really good at.
5. Act first, reflect later:
The biggest mistake people make in career change is to follow the traditional “plan then implement” model. You draw up lists of personal strengths, weaknesses and ambitions, then match your profile to particular professions; at that point you start sending out applications.
But there’s a problem: that typically doesn’t work. You might find a new job, but despite your expectations, it is unlikely to be fulfilling.
We need to turn this model on its head. Instead of thinking then acting, we should act first and reflect later by trying out jobs in the real world, for example by shadowing or volunteering, testing out careers through experiential learning.
6. Approach work as a life-long experiment:
Changing career is a frightening prospect. But ultimately, there is no avoiding the fact that it is a risk.
Ask successful career changers how to overcome the fear and most say the same thing: in the end you have to stop thinking and just do it. That may be why nearly all cultures have recognised that to live a meaningful and vibrant existence, we need to take some chances—or else we might end up looking back on our lives with regret.
(Indebted to various sources)