Meaningful work is a big part of life, not only in terms of hours, but in how your work affects your sense of overall satisfaction, meaning and purpose. That’s why it’s so important to cultivate a sense of purpose in the roles we perform for remuneration, connect them to our larger goals and actively address obstacles that hamper professional satisfaction.
While you may not love every minute you spend at work, reflecting deeply and purposefully on what gives you the greatest satisfaction in your professional life can go a long way to helping you make more of those hours rewarding ones.
Industrial and organizational psychologist, author of You Deserve to Love Your Job
, and WFF speaker, Arlene Pace Green, Ph.D., recently shared insights from her own research and others, best practices and personal experiences from working with numerous clients on how to create a work life you truly enjoy.
Seeking professional fulfillment
Whether you’re reasonably happy in your current role or highly dissatisfied, there are steps you can take almost immediately to increase your sense of satisfaction, even if you are preparing for a position that suits you better. Pace Green advocates a three-pronged approach to developing job satisfaction.
- Core beliefs you need before you can love your job – any job.
“We receive a lot of conflicting messages about work through movies, TV and other media that portray work as drudgery and work settings as places of near abuse,” Pace Green observes. You might think of films like Horrible Bosses
or The Devil Wears Prada
. “We also hear alarming statistics about people who are disengaged at work, but very little about those who are actually deeply engaged. Before you can love any job, you need to cultivate the core beliefs that loving your work is important to your life, that it is possible
to enjoy your work life, and that there are processes you can follow to get there.” Research shows that people who enjoy their work are twice as likely to report that they enjoy the rest of their life too.
- A process to explore your purpose.
A leading expert researching purpose today is Cornell University’s
Pace Green agrees, confirming that purpose is something you build from the inside out. Based on her own research, she has found that it takes a serious investment of time to home in on your purpose, that it can change over time, and that, for some people, purpose is focused more on how
you want to be engaged in the world rather than on exactly what
you are doing.
She suggests building purpose by seeking out intersections among the activities and skills you excel at, those you enjoy most, and those in which others see value. Research shows that moving toward these sweet spots of overlap will move you closer to feelings of fulfillment.
But what if things don’t line up perfectly? For example, if you have interest in an activity or skill that others also value, but you don’t have that competency, you might invest in building those skills, work in related areas where you do have greater proficiency, or even simply volunteer in that area to enjoy exposure to it while also, possibly, developing more competence.
If you are good at a skillset that is also valued, but you lack interest in it, it can help to focus on how that activity fits into a larger purpose. You might also explore ways to streamline those tasks. Finally, striving to accept that there will always be some activities that are the spinach of every work life can help you not exaggerate negative aspects of a job and focus on the larger positives.
Finally, if the missing component is the value others place on your desired activities, Pace Green suggests that you continue to pursue them even as hobbies. Research shows that having enjoyable pursuits outside of work actually increases your happiness at work too. Opportunities may also arise to insert some of your hobby into your work life, such as by leading a meditation session for colleagues, organizing a lunchtime card game or leading after-hours bike rides.
- Take action toward loving your job and enjoying your life even more.
Pace Green often sees people tripped up by over-thinking and over-planning rather than taking small, concrete steps toward change. She calls that “procrasti-thinking” and “procrasti-planning.” Extreme thinking can also be a trap. “Dissatisfied in their work, people often assume they either have to keep doing exactly what they are doing for the next thirty years, or blow up their whole situation and start over,” she says. “There is so much space in the middle to take smaller, successive steps to drive change over time. Extreme thinking can paralyze you as any one action seems too difficult, unrealistic or unappealing.”
Focusing on what you like about your current role and what you’d like more of, will open your mind to new opportunities and help you chart a path to greater professional satisfaction.