Summer holidays can be life changing. As we relish the opportunity to decompress with family and friends away from all the ‘busyness’, more often than not we experience a newfound calm and a refreshing sense of clarity. Unfortunately for some, illuminating what lies before them in the New Year can conjure up intense feelings of anxiety and dread about their return to a seemingly lack-lustre job or career.
I’m not talking about the post-holiday blues, although these are legitimate feelings also. I am talking about our reflection over the summer holiday period of the meaning and purpose that we derive (or don’t) from our chosen job or occupation – the ‘why’ we're in the job we're in.
Associate Professor Michael Steger from Colorado State University is an international expert on meaning and purpose. I was first introduced to Michael's work as part of my Masters degree. I also had the benefit of hearing Michael speak in late 2013 in Melbourne on the topic of ‘Meaning @ Work’. Michael spoke about making your moments matter, the importance of spending what precious time we have in a meaningful career. Michael and his colleagues found that those who report a greater sense of meaning at work are:
- profess a greater overall wellbeing;
- enjoy a sense of life satisfaction;
- feel more control over their lives;
- are more engaged in their work and;
- are less likely to experience negative affects such as stress and depression.
Subsequently, they found that when we have a sense of meaning in our work our level of job satisfaction, career commitment and organisational commitment increase. A win-win for individuals and organisations alike.
In my mind, the crux of the team's findings to date is that meaning is most fully achieved when people actively engage in pursuits that transcend their own immediate interests. What struck me as particularly good news was that we don’t need to be saving lives (or even changing our existing jobs or careers). Meaning and purpose is different for everyone and can be created at work (and in life in general) if we work towards ensuring what is important in our lives is consistent and compatible with what we do at work. To achieve this, we need to better understand our purpose and take a step back from our day-to-day tasks to make sense of our role in the bigger picture.
Below are some suggestions for self-reflection over the coming weeks:
- Better understand myself - What is my purpose? (my long term goals for life, my legacy) What are my strengths? What are my natural abilities? What are my values? What are my beliefs?
- Better understand my environment - What is the vision/ mission / values of my organisation? To what extent is the direction of the organisation (and the people I work alongside) aligned to my personal values and beliefs? To what extent am I challenged to grow and use my strengths to support a ‘greater good’ through my role in my organisation?
In the meantime, for more information on Meaning@Work:
- Take the free Meaningful Life Questionnaire (MLQ) and contribute to ongoing research
Or the longer, https://jfe.qualtrics.com/form/SV_29P35LgZHcytgna
- Watch Michael’s TEDx talk on ‘What Makes Life Meaningful’
- Read Michael’s ‘Purpose and Meaning in the Workplace’
- Read Marcia Bench’s ‘Discover Your Authentic Vocation’
- Read Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’