find meaning in work

If you’ve ever been faced with the question of how to find meaning in your work, you’ll know it can feel like a challenge. Not all work is fulfilling, and much of it, especially for younger and low-paid workers, is downright mundane and boring. But necessary, we all have to do things we don’t like or agree with sometimes, just to pay the bills.

One way to solve this conundrum is to look at life as a whole, rather than just a part of it. Work is only one aspect that can contribute to a successful and satisfying life, so looking at the bigger picture can help you stand back and get a sense of perspective.

The bigger picture

For example, I speaking to a client recently, I’ll call her Mireille, who was struggling with just this question. After university she had taken a job in advertising and quickly worked her way up to a management position. Two years in, she was doing well financially, and her job, she said, was satisfying but “without any meaning for me”. After running through the strengths and benefits of her working life, I had to agree that, from the outside, her life and prospects looked pretty good.

Mireille asked me how she could find meaning in her work, but I thought she was looking in the wrong place. When I asked her to explain more about what she described as “lacking meaning”, she told me that the company she worked for didn’t align with her ethical values. Her ultimate aim was, she said, to start her own company helping ethical producers bring their products to market.

After a bit more exploration, I asked her how it would be if, instead of focussing on work in detail, she stepped back and thought about how her life would look in the medium to long term, if she had a arrived at her goals of setting up her dream business. She became more animated as she explained what she was looking forward to doing when she would eventually run her own business.

I then asked Mireille if she already knew all she felt she needed to know to get that business up and running. She told me that she didn’t yet have enough experience…. and at that moment when I think the penny dropped!

Thinking at a higher level

By reframing her current ‘lack of meaning’ work situation as part of the learning process to prepare her for entrepreneurship, it suddenly took on a new meaning for her. It had its place in the essential journey from employee to, eventually, boss of her own business.

Thinking at a higher level brought a fresh perspective. From that point she could easily recognise the necessity of her current situation, and it also helped her to reflect on how her values aligned with her aspirations, and think more strategically. There would be many more choices she’d need to make about her career and her life in general, as she prepared herself for the time when she’d be ready to become a full time business woman.

Where to find meaning in work?

It begins with a moment of reflection, a pause to ponder what truly matters to you amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life. What ignites your passion? What brings you joy and fulfilment? Identifying these core aspects of yourself can serve as the foundation for uncovering meaning. Sometimes this is easier when you consider how you want your life to be going forward, than to simply drill down and focus on the routines and commitments of your daily life. Even the most arduous situation can seem more bearable, when put in the greater context of serving future ambitions.

Once you’ve pinpointed your values and aspirations, the next step is to weave them into the fabric of your daily existence. It may be that, like the example above, taking a different, broader perspective, you’ll be able to get a better sense of meaning from your current situation. Seeing it as one part of the final jigsaw of life can make a difficult situation tolerable, or even purposeful.

You might also consider building on your strengths and interests, at work, but also in other areas of your life. One very successful career coach I know loved writing, so he started out by volunteering to help others smarten up their CVs. In time, he was able to decline a salary of £100,00-plus to follow his dream and launch his coaching and mentoring business, so confident was he that he would easily surpass the money offered by his stable but unfulfilling job.

In the search for meaning (and it may take a little time, so be patient) think about anything you are passionate about. Develop interests, pursuing hobbies… whatever ignites your creativity, or infuses your efforts at work with a sense of purpose. By aligning your actions with your values, you nurture meaning in the moment, transforming routine tasks into opportunities for growth and connection.

Be grateful

Another tip is to embrace a mindset of gratitude. Taking time to reflect and appreciate the blessings and opportunities that surround you, even in the face of adversity, can can amplify the sense of meaning in your life and work.  Cultivating gratitude opens your heart to the richness of life, fostering a sense of contentment, fulfilment, and connection.

The search to find meaning in work, or anywhere else, is a transformative process.  Prepare yourself for the journey by embracing notions of personal growth and lifelong learning. Embrace challenges as opportunities for self-discovery and development, celebrating your progress along the way. Invest in nurturing relationships that uplift and support you, surrounding yourself with individuals who share your values and inspire you to be your best self. Hang out with people you like and admire, learn from their successes as well as your own.

Ultimately, finding meaning in life and work is about living authentically, honouring your values, and making a positive impact on the world around you. By embarking on this journey of self-discovery, you cultivate a life rich in purpose and fulfilment, where every moment is potentially meaningful and laced with possibility.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.