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5 Tips For Creating Meaningful Work

May 20, 2019 - Heather Hennenburg

Many of the people I work with experience a deep internal drive to fulfill their greatest potential and make a helpful impact on the world. They often struggle with what that actually means for them. They may have a lot of inspired ideas and don’t know what direction to choose. Or, they may feel completely clueless and have no idea at all about what their best contribution might be. Almost universally, they fear making the wrong choice. 


My deep-seated belief is that any human being makes their most meaningful and valuable contribution to the world when they are living their truth. When they are simply being who they are and allowing their choices to flow from the natural expression of what they love, the whole world benefits. Even small actions from this place of authenticity are powerful movements that ripple through our lives and influence our communities and cultures. So what do you wish to share with us? How do you know which direction is the right one?


If you are like many of my clients, you have a great number of interests and abilities and are forever frustrated and confused about what is right for you. You constantly fear committing to the wrong path, investing your time, energy and resources, only to discover you’re not happy. Here are some keys to choosing a meaningful path that will have longevity for you. 


  1. Multiplicity

First, remember you don’t have to choose just one interest area for your career. The notion that you must choose one thing and work at that for the rest of your life is outdated. Today, you can create your own career path. You can create a career that combines several of your interests and talents into one offering or have a multi-pronged career where you work at 2 or 3 endeavors simultaneously and part-time. It is also common now that people’s careers evolve and change over the course of their lives.


  2. Values

Identify what is most important to you at your core and make choices that reflect these values. This is an essential key to living a fulfilling life and making a meaningful contribution. When you know what is most important to you, you can use these values to guide your choices in every aspect of your life (relationships, work, health, etc.). In this way, you create an existence that reflects back to you what you most love and channels your passions and abilities into efforts that make a positive difference. (How to identify your values: see “practice” below.)


  3. Consistency

Identify which passions and interests have been most consistent for you across time. These are the areas where you will most likely be able to sustain your interest for the long haul. Nothing will infuse you with excitement at all times, but if an interest is notably consistent for you, you will likely be able to stay committed and push through even when the work is occasionally boring or especially hard. Even if an interest waxes and wanes, if it always seems to recapture your attention, it will likely continue to do so for years to come. 


  4. Exploration

Once you have narrowed the field of possibilities according to your values and consistent interests, it’s time to explore. One at a time, treat each possibility as if you have decided to commit to it fully. Start from the beginning: research the practicalities, come up with a list of questions and talk to someone already doing the same or similar work, take a class, volunteer, draw up a budget – you get the idea. Find out first-hand what you like and don’t like about each path. If one path doesn’t feel like a fit for you, take what you learned from it and jump over to another potential path. Keep doing this, and you will accumulate the information and experience you need to make work choices that will bring you satisfaction and a sense of purpose.


  5. Right vs. Wrong?

Worry over choosing the right or wrong path can be paralyzing and can delay the progress of even the most gifted people. The truth is: there is no right or wrong path. There is only the path that you create as you work toward bringing your potential to fruition, and every step is valuable. Each twist and turn is an important piece of your story, and at the end of the day, every action you take toward expressing your truth is the meaning you give your life. 


PRACTICE: Here’s an exercise for helping identify your values:


1. Choose a person, place, thing, experience, concept, etc. that you love.


Example: My dog.


2. What do you love about it/her/him?


Example: She is curious. (List as many things as you can.)


3. Look at those things you listed in your answer to number 2 (in my case curiosity); why are these things important to you? How do they benefit you? How do they make you feel? How do these things on a larger scale benefit the world?  


Example: Making connections, living a fuller life, seeing things I might otherwise miss. Introduces me to new things, gives me new experiences. Excited, alive, open to possibilities. New advancements, communication and understanding. (Answer these questions for everything you listed in number 2.)


4. Repeat steps 1-3 with someone or something different until you have a long list of things that are important to you. These are your personal values.


Example: curiosity, connection, living fully, being aware, learning and experiencing new things, excitement, feeling alive, being open to possibility, advancement, communication, understanding…


5. Look through your long list several times. On a gut level, which among these things are must-haves in the different aspects of your life. These are your core personal values


Example: curiosity, connection, living fully, being aware, learning and experiencing new things, excitement, feeling alive, being open to possibility, advancement, communication, understanding


6. Look at every aspect of your life through the lens of your core values and make choices that reflect them. Enjoy a more fulfilling life!


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