I’ve recently started reading Reddit semiregularly, and one of my most-visited subreddits is /r/careerguidance. While the questions submitted range from the very specific (“I’m a history major with two years of work experience at a museum. What other careers might be good for me?”) to the general (“How can I make more money?”), a common theme among posts involves finding a career that’s fulfilling and meaningful.
On the surface, it seems like a big task. When we think of our lives’ passions, we tend to think big. And very few jobs—or, at least, jobs that pay a salary—are entirely aligned with the things that make us most energized. Me? The things that get my heart racing are coaching, reading, playing rugby, and spending time with family. But I’ve yet to find a Rugby-Playing Mom Book Reviewer job posted anywhere.
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been able to find fulfillment in my “ordinary” nine-to-five jobs. There are things we can do every day to make even the most mundane occupations meaningful.
- Look for micro-passions. (Yes, I made that word up.) You probably aren’t going to find a job that lets you dedicate your time to only the activities you find meaningful. But that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate your passions into your day job. Are you a champion of human rights? Ask if you can serve on your company’s diversity and inclusion task force (or volunteer to start one). Love to write? See if your organization has a blog. Is knitting your thing? Start a weekly lunch-time knitting club. Even seemingly minor activities can help bring personal meaning to your work life.
- Give optimism a try. It’s so easy to fall into the my-corporate-career-is-sucking-the-life-out-of-me trap. But your perception of your job can change when you force yourself to look at the “good.” Each night, list five things that made your day good. Did you complete a project you were especially proud of? Experience a small act of kindness from a coworker? Continued optimism involves discipline, and forcing yourself to look for the good can be life changing.
- Find your tribe. Life can be enjoyed at a greater magnitude when we share it with others. Are you going to like everyone you work with? Of course not. But are there people at your organization you can meaningfully connect with? Almost certainly. Finding kindred spirits isn’t just good for your soul. A trusted group of peers can provide you with a platform to share and refine ideas and bring new perspectives to your work challenges. One warning, though: Avoid building relationships solely on shared complaints. Very little is as draining as constant pessimism!
- Be sure to build a “you” outside of work. We’re all busy. But nothing paves the way to burnout faster than spending all of your time fulfilling work and family obligations. For Christmas, my husband bought me this book. While I considered myself mostly happy, completing the book’s guided thought exercises made it clear that, over the years, I had deprioritized my life’s passions. I was on a “wake up, go to work, come home, sleep, do it all again” path. In response, I made some serious life changes. I made a pretty significant career move. I reorganized my daily schedule so that my son and I could spend meaningful time together. I volunteered to coach a soccer team. I started reading more. And I’m slowly getting back into shape with the hope that I can make one final return to the rugby pitch.
Am I trying to discourage you from finding that perfect meets-all-criteria job? No way. But if you start actively searching for small-scale joy and happiness in every situation, you may find that a “unicorn” career is much closer than you believed.
Elizabeth Petersen is a project director at Simplify Compliance. Before her current role, Elizabeth oversaw Simplify Compliance’s healthcare division, HCPro. She also has held roles in HCPro’s sales, product management, and content development departments. Before joining HCPro, she held editorial positions at JBLearning and CCI Communications. Elizabeth lives in the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and son and is passionately interested in corporate culture, innovation, women’s leadership, and caffeine.