Perhaps you've heard about The Great Resignation or what some have dubbed the The Great Rethink. It’s a trendy word used to describe our current labour market - specifically, how workers have been leaving their jobs at much higher rates since early 2021.
Part of their reason for leaving is burnout. Workers desperately need more flexible work arrangements, more mental health days, better connections with their colleagues, and bosses who take self-care seriously. Consequently, employers who fail to provide these things are losing their hired talent.
Personally, I believe this trend is about more than just burnout. The pandemic has created a collective shift in the way we value family, leisure time, relationships, and the role of work in our lives. Many of us no longer feel that our jobs align with our values, and as a result we no longer find our work meaningful. This loss of meaning also explains why so many people are leaving their jobs.
This raises an important question: how can we find meaning in our careers if they no longer align with our values?
The purpose of this post is to explore a possible answer to that question. But before we do that, we need to define our terms!
What is 'meaning', anyway?
As I define it, meaning is the deeper purpose that you have for your work. Ideally, this purpose aligns with your values and serves to guide, energize, motivate, and sustain you through the ups and downs of your career path.
In my own work as a Career Coach, I experience purpose when I use ideas to facilitate personal transformation in the lives of others. That’s how I find meaning. I could have found this as a University Instructor, a Corporate Trainer, a Psychotherapist, or as a Curriculum Designer; but I chose coaching because (as a solopreneur) it offers me an ideal balance of flexible work, family time, and space to invest in my mental health. I need those supports in my life to pursue meaning in a sustainable way, so that I don't burn out.
Now that you understand how I've found meaning, how does this apply to you? How can you find purpose in your career if you feel like you've lost it? I've thought long and hard about this question, and the best answer I know of is for you to examine your values and interests for clues!
Values and interests as clues to meaning
Interests are topics that you are drawn to. You know you are drawn to them if you frequently talk to family, friends and coworkers about them, have bookmarks in your web browser about them, follow them as #hashtags on social media, write about them, or study them. Interests are often quite diverse: you can be simultaneously drawn to topics like adult education, philanthropy, gaming, flight and space technology, architecture, financial investing, non-profits, the outdoors, etc. It really depends on you.
Values are the ideals that you stand for. You hold them in high regard and probably believe the world would be a better place if more people paid attention to them. You feel joy when you see those ideals flourish and you experience pain when you witness them lacking. For example, you might stand for values like autonomy, security, equality, integrity, or efficiency, and believe that society would be much better off in support of these ideals.
So what do values and interests have to do with meaning? It's quite simple actually:
You find meaning when you pursue your values in areas that deeply interest you!
Let me give you an example of what this can look like.
Suppose that you deeply value mental health and that you have a keen interest in post-partum parenting. You might ask yourself: how is mental health lacking in this area?
After doing a bit of research, you discover that first-time parents frequently lack the mental health supports they need when caring for their newborns. This is often due to a lack of psycho-educational training or to barriers when trying to access that training. As a result of this discovery, you tentatively adopt the following statement as a possible career goal for you:
"Improve access to mental health supports for first time parents"
Now you are starting to feel excited! You then ask yourself: which career roles help to address that goal, either directly or indirectly?
You do some more research and end up finding a whole host of potential options! You could promote postpartum mental health by becoming a Fundraiser for a family-oriented mental health organization, an Executive Assistant for a network of Midwifery Clinics, a Lactation Consultant for a Family Health Team, or even a Psychotherapist. Those are just a few examples! And they all came from exploring how your interests and values overlap.
Of course, there is no guarantee that you currently have the skills required for those jobs roles. But your research does clarify the meaning behind the work you want to do, and that is progress, especially if you are willing to upgrade your skills in the near future.
How this applies to you
We've covered a lot of territory in this post so let's bring it back to you the reader. How can you move forward if you are feeling a lack of purpose in your job and are looking for a career change?
I would suggest three simple steps:
Figure out what your top interest areas are
Identify how your values are needed or lacking in those interest areas
Investigate ways to meet those needs and see which jobs/skill development opportunities you find!
That's a pretty straightforward approach. And it's much easier than scrolling endlessly through lists of random job postings online! That's because when you start with the meaningful goals you want to pursue, the respective job roles become much easier to identify!
If you feel drawn to this approach and would like some help finding meaning in your career, then I have an offer for you. I’ve currently developed a new coaching exercise entitled Finding Your Meaningful Challenges. It is a potent new tool that walks you through the three-step process outlined above, so that you can start feeling better about your job situation and future prospects!
I’d be happy to send you a free copy of the exercise. Simply email me here and ask me to send it to you!