The pursuit of meaning is in our blood. Imbued in that pursuit is both joy and suffering. I suppose it’s the Yin and Yang of life; for every good thing there’s an opposite. Despite the possibility that the opposite, insignificance, will reveal itself, the search remains one of life’s deepest joys.
That joy, however, isn’t limited to your personal life. Meaning is an essential element in your professional world, too. Many of the research papers I read for my book, The Optimistic Workplace: Creating an Environment That Energizes Everyone, revealed how prevalent the need for meaningful work was among employees. Consider this finding from DeVry University: 71% of Millennials placed it as the top factor for defining career success.
Millennials aren’t the only people interested in greater meaning in work and in life. They’re merely voicing a human need that, until recently, hasn’t been a big part of the conversation in our workplaces. Whether you’re a founder, manager, or individual contributor, you can find greater meaning at work in ways that go beyond the obvious. What follows are seven tips to significantly magnify it in your personal and professional life.
1. Abandon the Pursuit of Work-Life Balance
The problem with balance is the assumption that you must give up something to achieve equilibrium. Why should you have to give up something personally or professionally to have a life with meaning?
Instead, switch your mindset to view the two worlds as integrated. How? Wharton school professor Stewart Friedman says you should look to develop the skills to be real (legacy, values, ideal self), be whole (service, supportive networks), and be innovative (focus on results, challenge the status quo). These skills help you uncover significance in your life.
2. Define Your Personal Values
It’s been said, “If you don’t know what you stand for, you’ll fall for anything.” What you stand for are the values you hold to be true and the beliefs that guide you through life’s challenges.
In her new book, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David calls this “walking your why: identifying and acting on the values that are truly your own, not those imposed on you by others, not what you think you should care about, but what you genuinely care about.”
3. Uncover Your Significant Strengths
Strengths aren’t just what you’re good at, but what lights you up. The marriage of what you’re good at with what lights you up leads the way to peak performance. The more you can use your strengths in your work, the greater meaning you’ll derive from it.
4. Make Friends at Work
You don’t have to have friends at work, but those that do are more likely to feel a sense of belonging. In forthcoming research from Great Places to Work, people who care about others create a collegial environment, and that helps drive higher revenue growth. One of the benefits to you is the development of meaningful relationships.
5. Understand Your Emotions
Psychologist Susan David explained to me that we experience emotions as reality. David advocates to “feel the emotion” rather than push it away. Some tips she recommends to help you understand your emotions include:
- Pay attention to patterned responses. Recognize what triggers the emotion.
- Sit with emotions. Below the emotion are things that we value; emotions are data, not directions.
- Hold the emotion for what it is: “I notice that I’m feeling undermined. I notice that I’m having the thought that I’m a fraud.” “I notice...” is a prefix statement and gives a little distance between the emotion and what it means.
By understanding your emotions, you help yourself be more genuine with others, magnifying the chance for greater meaning in your relationships.
6. Be a Quitter
It’s hard for meaning to reveal itself to you when you’re overwhelmed. Over-commitment is a way to distract yourself from doing your best work. Evaluate what’s keeping you from greatness, and quit doing the things or associating with the people that limit your potential.
7. Choose Courage Over Comfort
Returning to Susan David’s book, we find this wise, encouraging insight: “Choose courage over comfort by vitally engaging with new opportunities to learn and grow, rather than passively resigning yourself to your circumstances.” Meaning is dynamic. You grow more aware of it when you break patterns of behavior or try new things.
Meaning doesn’t need to apply only to your personal pursuits. It can also be nurtured in your professional life. It helps you live a whole life that satisfies and energizes. At work, that energy can be channeled to accomplish significant outcomes.
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