"I wish my work was meaningful, but..."
How would you finish that statement?
I've immersed myself in the topic of meaningful work since my doctoral program 15 years ago. Amid various opinions and research, one consistent truth continues to rise to the top: You ascribe meaning to your work. It's not handed to you with a certain title, role, or activity, but rather brought out with intentionality by you.
For example, I once coached a former self-proclaimed "desk jockey" who now sees how his data entry work ultimately, by virtue of the ripple effect, saves lives. I also worked with a physician who directly saved lives but felt depleted, overwhelmed, and ready to call it quits. Each responded quite differently to the question, "How meaningful is your work?"
If working with meaning and purpose sounds far-fetched for you, commit to focusing on it for one month. I've created a calendar of simple but profound actions that will help you get started, which you can adapt as needed for your particular position.
Day 1: Start a Success Journal, noting one win at work per day. Commit to this practice daily for the month.
Day 2: Uncover your values and begin actively bringing them into your work. Check out the free online Values In Action assessment to get your thoughts rolling around this topic.
Day 3: Read an article about someone who inspires you.
Day 4: Select a project that engages your strengths. Underpromise and overdeliver.
Day 5: Add a motivating quote or helpful words of wisdom to your email signature.
Day 6: Write your ideal job description. Ask yourself how you could start bringing part of it to life.
Day 7: Choose a volunteer project that's meaningful for you. Gather a few coworkers to join you.
Day 8: Turn off all phones, notifications, & pings for 1-3 hours of deep, focused work.
Day 9: Send a handwritten note to a teacher or mentor who made a positive impact.
Day 10: Leave a voicemail for a colleague thanking them for all they do.
Day 11: Keep a time log for the day (or week). Accurately record where you spend your time.
Day 12: Make a list of 10+ career triumphs -- moments when you truly felt in the zone, energized, and doing exactly what you were meant to do.
Day 13: Bring special coffees, fruit, or a cookie tray to the office (or send to a client).
Day 14: Take a task that weighs you down and outsource, delegate, delete, or positively deal with it.
Day 15: Take on a leadership role for a project, committee, or experience that lights you up.
Day 16: Map your work's ripple effect. How do you make a difference for your coworkers, customers, family, community, and the world at large?
Day 17: Send a note to someone's boss sharing how well she/he served you.
Day 18: Choose your Daily Top 3 - your 3 most important priorities for today. Focus on them before all else.
Day 19: Do something delightfully out of the ordinary: Hold a staff meeting outdoors or host "bring your dog to work day," for example.
Day 20: Ask your supervisor for suggestions to help you grow, flourish, and make his/her job easier.
Day 21: Develop a reading habit of at least 15 minutes, or 15 pages, per day.
Day 22: Envision where you'd love to be -- personally and professionally -- 5 years from now. Start creating your action plan for that vision.
Day 23: Invite someone you respect out for coffee. Share what you admire and ask how you can help them.
Day 24: Publicly (i.e., on social media) thank an organization you admire.
Day 25: Who could benefit from your time and knowledge? Spend some time developing someone else.
Day 26: Overcome an obstacle. Choose something that's frustrated you and take action to improve it.
Day 27: Give 3 sincere, specific compliments to others.
Day 28: Focus on one thing at a time. Be fully in each of the day's activities.
Day 29: Take a significant leap to move a goal forward. Be bold!
Day 30: Decide your work is meaningful. Choose to act with purpose. Know, in your deepest self, that what you do matters!
You likely invest a good portion of your days -- and therefore your life -- at work. When you consciously use that time to express your purpose, make a difference, and help yourself and others grow, your experience changes dramatically.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared, "No work is insignificant." Take these actions for the next month or create your own, knowing that your work provides an opportunity to live your purpose and make a meaningful difference -- no matter what the role. Make it count!