Variety is the spice of life. We all know it, yet our daily routines and responsibilities often make working novel and exciting experiences into our lives a challenge. But new research has shown experiences that encourage workplace self-expansion are a measure not just of job satisfaction, but also self-esteem. That means making personal and professional growth a priority in our lives can have profound effects on our wellbeing and sense of identity.
“If you ask people to describe themselves, one of the first things they list is their employment. It’s thought to be a core central aspect of people’s identity,” says Kevin McIntyre, professor of psychology at Trinity University and one of the researchers involved in the recent study on workplace self-expansion. That’s why building opportunities for growth and reinvention into your work life can be so important. “People really love this feeling of self-expansion,” says McIntyre.
Research has found that falling in love can be a lot like having a satisfying and exciting job when it comes to the impact on your sense of self worth. “Aside from close relationships, people view their jobs as central to their self-concept,” says McIntyre. And like relationships, your workplace experiences can be a significant way to add dimensions to your life.
Building off previous relationship research, McIntyre and his team found that much in the way individuals in close relationships incorporate aspects of their partner into their sense of identity, jobs also allow for self-expansion when they encourage us to develop skills and assume new identities. That could come in the form of stepping up to lead a project, learning a new skill at work, or taking a different and more challenging approach to a task.
But not all workplaces make it easy to find time for personal projects. That means taking a proactive approach to make sure you’re constantly finding ways to grow and develop. Taking on a new management responsibility, connecting with different people in the workplace, or focusing on strengthening a skill as small as being better at social networking can help introduce new identities and perspectives into your daily routine, says McIntyre. It’s those small changes that can have a profound impact.
Being bored on the job isn’t just soul-sucking; research has shown it will also cause your performance to suffer. In a study of work performance titled “Bored Employees Misbehaving,” researchers found a close link between job boredom and counterproductive work behavior.
This makes sense. When you’re not challenged or excited about a task, chances are you won’t be all jazzed up to do a great job at it. Over time, this can take a toll on your performance. Make an effort to try new things and you’ll be motivating yourself to perform better.
You don’t have to overhaul your career or work responsibilities to create more meaning in your life. In a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, participants were asked to carry a Ping-Pong ball across the room, either by hand or using a pair of chopsticks. The participants doing the more novel and challenging of the two tasks–chopstick carrying –were more motivated to complete the task. “Sometimes it can be meaningful if you change your life in a momentous way,” says McIntyre. “But sometimes it’s these little experiences that can make your life more impactful.”