While most people work to make a living, more than half of us go to work every day to make an impact on society or our community, according to a May 2016 survey from Adobe. If you’re finding it tough to get excited about your work or wrestling with the Sunday night blues on a regular basis, it’s possible you’ve lost sight of the meaning in your work.
Many of us spend so much time at work and even get much of our identity from what we do for a living that it’s easy to understand why we want the work to be meaningful, says life coach Valorie Burton, founder of the Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute and author of Happy Women Live Better.
So how do you find meaning in your work, even if your job isn’t obviously infused with deep meaning? Here’s how to get in touch with your work’s purpose.
Before you know where to look for the value in your work, you need to know what it is that you actually do value, says executive coach Elizabeth McCourt, founder of McCourt Leadership Group. “For some people, it’s adventure. For some people, it’s freedom. For some people, it’s money. For some people, it’s family,” she says. “Then, look at what you’re doing with your life, with your work and your other things.” Once you’re clear on what is meaningful and important to you, you’ll have a better idea of where to find it, she says.
The next step is to shift your mind-set—even if you hate your job. If you walk around all day thinking about how much you hate everything, it’s going to be very difficult to see anything good. So cut the negativity, at least for now.
If you’re having trouble identifying anything meaningful or even good about your job, do a pro and con list, says Lisa N. Bertrand, master career specialist and legal ethics coordinator at Hofstra University School of Law. Yes, the “con” list may be longer, but writing them out will help you release them. Then you can start to think about the “pros.”
It may not be easy at first, but even listing that the job provides money for you to support yourself, or that your office building is nice, count. The goal is to find some positive aspects of the situation, she says. You can also look at the company as a whole and how it contributes to society’s good. You play a role in that. Own it, Bertrand says.
Bertrand’s background is in law, but her passion is theater. After she went to work for Hofstra, she saw the opportunity to add more of what she loved to her workplace and suggested doing a show. “The Law Review” is a musical theater show about law school life. She presented the idea to the dean, who loved it.
“[Creating such a project] gives you that opportunity to shine. Let me tell you, when I have to do this paperwork, it kind of helps to know that I have to go to rehearsal for the show in a couple hours,” she says. Thinking about ways to make your office more fun and meaningful to you also showcases your leadership skills and initiative.
Giving back makes you feel good, and often, you can find ways to do so through your company. Find out if the company supports a particular nonprofit or cause and get involved in those efforts, Burton says. Alternatively, the company may offer time off for volunteering or a matching gift pledge. If no such option exists, spearhead the efforts to start one, she says.
Heather Taylor joined MyCorporation.com as a social media and editorial manager in 2011. It was her first job out of college. After three years, she left, as she was worried that staying too long might inhibit her ability to work anywhere else. Between 2014 and mid-2016, she worked in advertising, public relations, editorial, and social media. With hindsight, she realized how good MyCorporation.com actually was, and rejoined the company in late 2016 as a social media associate.
“I had noticed through different news stories how well they were doing, and stayed in touch with my boss and kept that relationship strong,” she says.
Unlike Taylor, you might not need to leave your job in order to realize its true value. Taking a long weekend break or vacation could help you renew your enthusiasm.
Similarly, give yourself a break between big projects if you can, Burton says. If you’re the type who keeps charging toward and accomplishing one goal after another without stopping to enjoy the fruits of your labor, you may be suffering from a touch of goal fatigue, she says.
“It’s important as a team to be able to celebrate, perhaps have a little bit of a breather in between projects, even if it’s not really long, being able to say, okay, let’s have a little bit of downtime, even if it’s just a day or two before we dive right into the next thing,” she says.
Finding meaning in your work may take a bit of searching. And if it’s still not there, you may have to create it or even find a new job. But by searching out the good, you can reinspire yourself.