What do you like about your job? Is it the people you work with? The opportunity to learn? The chance to be part of building a product you love and use daily?
If the best part of your job is your vacation from it, it may be time to rethink your choices. For a lot of us, work-life fulfillment is found . . . well . . . not in work itself. We tend to think of the best parts of life as being those that aren’t related to work. But what if we’re missing out on opportunities to find value at work, and within work?
Now, I’m not saying that your job has to be the primary source of fulfillment and purpose. As I’ve written before, there is no magic bullet when it comes to fulfillment—and trying to find it will make you miserable.
That said, even the most monotonous job can provide some meaning. Here are six ways to find that when you’re in a tedious job:
Focus on what you can learn
A crucial part of feeling fulfilled is a sense that we are learning something new. Look for the things in your work that challenge you, and focus on the areas you haven’t yet figured out. What are the problems that no one has solved? What are the sticky issues that don’t seem to resolve themselves? Find these areas for new learning, new challenges, unique opportunities, and dig in. You’ll be surprised how much more engaged you’ll be when you expose your brain to new things.
Focus on what you can do differently
If you do things in the same way over and over, your brain will take shortcuts. Now, this is good for cognitive efficiency, but it’s not the recipe for fulfillment. Consider how you can add color to your work by doing things in different ways or by shaking up the norm. By adding novelty to the way you do your work, you’ll encourage your brain to turn on and stay engaged. You might even discover a more efficient way.
Focus on your network
As humans, we have a fundamental need to connect with others. Even the most introverted among us crave associations with people. (We just usually need to decompress by ourselves afterward.)
Work is a crucial way we build relationships. Get to know your colleagues. Learn about what makes them tick. Make friends, initiate conversations, and establish your network. Connect with others because it adds fulfillment to your experience and because it will help you in the long run. If you’re plotting out your next career move, having a robust network can open doors and opportunities.
Focus on helping others
In the same way we’re wired to connect with others, we’re also wired to help others. People who contribute to the well-being of others tend to be happier and more fulfilled in their work and their lives. Figure out how you can lend a helping hand or boost someone who’s having a less-than-stellar day.
Focus on mastery
In addition to learning new skills and stretching, also focus on mastering what you already know. Figure out how to take your performance of your core skills to the next level. Don’t just do your job well. Aim to do it with absolute excellence.
It might sound counterintuitive—after all, if you don’t like what you do, how is working harder at it supposed to make you enjoy it more? Think of it like a craftsman—the more they focus on quality, the better their work becomes (and usually the more enjoyable their work becomes). If you spend your time focusing on everything that’s wrong with your job, you’re unlikely to get better.
Focus on identity
For most people, work is the primary way they identify themselves. Whether you’re a firefighter or just fighting fires all day at work, appreciate the extent to which your job helps you be you. The skills and talents you develop through your work make you unique. Embrace your work because it contributes to your sense of self and how you contribute to the world. Your work matters, and through it, you matter as well.
Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.