As a former manager of a team of Millennials, I like to keep my finger on the pulse of what this rambunctious generation is up to and what they’re thinking. I’m borderline Gen X/Millennial by age and have qualities of both, but at my core I’m more Gen X. Having interviewed hundreds of Millennials for their first or second job out of college, it’s clear to me that they seek work that is engaging and impactful.
Research has even shown that 55% of Millennials chose companies based on their cause-related work in the community. While not everyone can land jobs that “change the world,” there are ways to seek out more meaningful work regardless of how old or young you are. If you listen to the TED talk “Why We Work,” the core takeaway is people want to be appreciated and feel that their time on the job is adding value.
Perhaps you too seek more than just money, benefits, or prestige in the work that you do. Whether it’s on behalf of the environment, the people in their community, refugees in war-torn countries half a world away, or the arts, being able to feel good about what your efforts are bringing about in the world is being seen more and more as a right instead of a privilege.
That being said, finding meaningful work that fits your personality, temperament, and skill set — and ensures you can pay the bills — is still at odds with much of our money-centered culture. That doesn’t mean you can’t find it, but it might take you a while to find it or it might not be what you expect. Don’t follow your passion, bring it with you. Here are five steps to help you find it.
1. Get Curious And Seek Answers
The world is a big place. You are a complex person. To find your path toward a meaningful career, it’s essential you become more curious about both. Get curious, take action, experiment and be willing to make some sacrifices.
Does a job working with animals sound interesting? Volunteer at your local animal shelter, and see how it feels. It may not be as glamorous as you imagine. Or you might find yourself feeling more fulfilled than ever.
Perhaps the Syrian refugee crisis has tugged at your heartstrings and sparked your interest in working with refugees or immigrants. Talk to a social worker about this part of their job, the schooling they went through to get there, and the day-in and day-out of their struggles and rewards.
In every way you can, ask questions, expand your knowledge and a way through should start to reveal itself. Even if your experimenting doesn’t lead you to a new career, it can enrich your life through volunteering and charitable giving. Plus, it never hurts to ask your employer if they are able to match any donations you make to meaningful causes.
2. Stay Limber And Pivot
Most of us will change jobs and careers multiple times over the course of our lives. Whether it’s because we find something that pays better or because we get tired of what we’re doing, change can be really healthy. If you’re on the hunt for meaningful employment, get prepared to be more flexible.
You may need to leave of absence from your day job if you land the chance to be a counselor for disadvantaged youth. Or you may have to accept a lower salary to work at a non-profit organization. Try to be as flexible as you can in your commitments so you can explore all the options as they become available.
In your initial quest to discover what you would like to do, you may not be able to prioritize money. If you can’t afford to take a salary pay cut, then you may need to delay a major career change. Try to uncouple time and effort from ideas about money. Of course this is easier said than done, especially if you live in a high cost of living area like San Francisco. Stay limber with your desires and don’t be afraid to pivot as you discover which priorities (ex. money, relationships, clients, location, seniority, etc.) drive you the most.
3. Be Honest With Yourself
When you’re looking for work that provides meaning, honesty is an essential companion. This is especially true in regards to telling the truth about yourself — to yourself.
Many of us can become attached to a more romantic ideal of ourselves than actually exists in reality. Shocking right? 😉 While it’s good to have values and ideals, we must all come to terms with the people we actually are.
For example, while it’s great that some people are able to work day in and day out with homeless people, realistically you may not be able to handle the everyday challenges and emotions of this type of work even if you really want to help. That’s why it helps to experiment and volunteer before making a giant career change in your search for meaningful work.
Be honest with who you are and what motivates you to work hard besides just “making a difference.” The quicker you get to know your true list of desires, the faster you’ll find your path to work that really gives you a sense of meaning. For example, you might be more motivated by money than you thought.
4. Get Your Hands Dirty
Meaningful work rarely finds someone who’s just sitting around. Most of the time, it’s only by delving deeply into something — a project, a volunteer position, an internship, a class — that someone is able to see the value it holds for them. Work hard at everything you do and be willing to get your hands dirty.
Some things only reveal themselves as being meaningful after years of extreme effort — like learning to play the cello well enough to enjoy the intricacies of the way it sounds and the effortless techniques of the great cellists like Yo-Yo Ma.
You can’t dip your toes into cooking for two weeks and hope to get at the essence of what it’s like to create a five-course prix fixe menu, prep it, cook it, plate it, and serve it. People who truly love their jobs have worked their tails off to get there.
5. Reflect And Gain New Perspectives
It’s essential that while you’re being curious, honest, flexible and hardworking, you’re also being reflective. Pay close attention to how everything you’re doing does and doesn’t seem to pay off according to your values and the way you want to live your life and spend your time.
Pause, take a step back and reflect. Whether you write in a journal, talk with a trusted friend, seek advice from the Untemplater community or hash things out on a regular basis with a career counselor, being reflective is an essential part of putting the puzzle together.
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