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Is Your Work Meaningful to You and Others?
by Caela Farren, Ph.D., MasteryWorks, Inc.

Once you know what gives you meaning, make time every day for experiencing those things personally and professionally.Introduction
How do you go about bringing meaning and fulfillment into your life, your career and your work? Do you know what gives you meaning? What makes your life worth living? Your work worth doing? What’s your answer to the age-old question – ’What’s it all about?” Only you can answer this question for yourself. And, like me, you’ll probably find that your answers change over the years. What gives you meaning might range from raising great kids to increasing the profitability of your business unit to creating a high-quality leadership education program that makes a measureable difference in your organization or hiking in the mountains. Or all of those items. Discover what makes you proud, feel fulfilled, passionate or assures your life makes a difference for others. Once you know what gives you meaning, make time every day for experiencing those things personally and professionally.

During the construction of the great Cathedral at Chartres, the Cardinal sent his bishop to find out why the building was taking so long to complete. When the Bishop arrived at the site, he asked three stone masons at random what each of them was doing. The first looked uncomfortably at huge lengths of stone and said he was measuring column lengths which had to be exact. The second replied sourly he was making gargoyles which took him years to chisel. The last, an elderly stone dust sweeper, stepped away from his broom and proudly smiled at the Bishop. “What am I doing, Your Eminence? Why, I’m building a cathedral.” While the other stonemasons were toiling away at their jobs, the sweeper’s work, though menial and perhaps the most unimportant of the three, gave him fulfillment and meaning by understanding his work would ultimately bring glory to God. Contributing to something greater than ourselves that we deeply care about brings us meaning.

What Gives You Meaning?
What gives you meaning, makes you proud, energizes your heart and mind and makes a difference in your life and the lives of others? Clinical Psychologist Meg Jay, Ph. D., says that when she first started treating post-pubescent patients in their “twentysomething,” she met a 20-something with an identity crisis who wanted to be an actress. The woman was a waitress for three years and lived with an abusive boyfriend because it was cheaper. At one session, the patient cried for an hour because she had nobody to contact “in case of emergency.” Dr. Jay felt like volunteering to be her contact, but over the next weeks and months, she found out what nearly every “twentysometing” needed to hear. She told them to forget about their identity crisis and get some “identity capital” by doing something that adds value to who you are. The way to resolve your identity crises is to learn who you are, - to stop procrastinating and get working on that start-up, that internship, or on something that will put meaning into your life. It is through contribution to something greater than ourselves that brings us meaning and identity capital.” “The Defining Decade,” Meg Jay, Ph. D., Hachette, 2012, 242pp.

What gives meaning to one person is quite different than another. Here are examples of what gives meaning to three different people:

“When I think about what has brought meaning in my life, I can see the faces of my family, my children and grandchildren; the people I’ve coached who have accomplished their career goals and developed their talents; the colleagues and friends after giving them the “perfect” article or book that I know will help or support them in some way given recent conversations; the people I’ve helped find their calling or unique talents; the people who have been given the opportunity to do what they say they really want; and the clients who reinforce meaning by giving so much positive feedback about what they’ve learned because of our company, MasteryWorks.” Caela Farren, Ph. D., CEO and Consultant, Delray Beach, Florida

“As an art director, I am proud when I feel that a piece of me shows up in the work I create for our company. It’s true to my design beliefs. It’s like an extension of who I am and my visual expertise. I also feel happy and proud when I know my work is a piece of something larger that helps others clarify and design their careers and lives.” Nola Shelton, Art Director, Falls Church, Virginia

“As a teacher, I feel that my life and my work have completed me. For me, there is no more meaningful work in the world than teaching children. It is the highest calling.” Leslie Cushner, High School Teacher, Athenian School, Danville, California

Build Meaning at Work
So how can you more systematically find meaning at work? Here’s how:

M ake your work count. Be sure you’re working on something you care about and is connected to your own personal mission or that of your organization. We are built to make a difference.

E ngage your mind. Learn something new every day Spend time thinking about what’s important to you. Read. Have quality discussions with others about what’s important to you.

A lign with your values. Be true to yourself. Practice authenticity. Don’t pretend to be other than yourself. Live life on your own terms.

N etwork with others who share your values and passion. Hang out with people who stretch you and expect your best. Don’t hang out with victims and naysayers. Build positive relationships with people who appreciate what gives you meaning.

I dentify and hone your uniqueness. Build on your strengths, talents, interests and abilities. Be true to your calling – to what gives you meaning. Become excellent at your craft. Practice daily. Increase your value to others.

N urture others. Be a mentor or coach for those around you. Help others. Go out of your way to support your team members. Make time to listen and teach.

G enerate excitement and energy. Share your passion. Excite others. Bring your dreams to life. Lead by example. Be the magnet for your cause.

One of life’s greatest illusions is that someday we will turn our hopes and dreams into reality. But the constant ebb and flow of life with its pressures and challenges erodes dreams. Time passes quickly. So, if you have one big dream, or more than one, something you have been itching to do, something you believe will bring back meaning to your work and fulfill your life, take a chance. Don’t wait. Don’t put off bringing yourself the gift of meaning. It’s pure bliss.

This article describes the importance of having meaning in your work. You can systematically find meaning at work by asking yourself, are you addressing important human problems and needs? Are you using your strengths, traits, and values? Are you working on something you’re good at doing, something that is critically important to the mission of the team and the organization? Is your organization in sync with your values? Are you in sync with the mission and culture of your organization? Are you at a place where you can build positive friendships and alliances and maintain a strong work-life balance? Start by bringing yourself the gift of meaning today.

About the Author
Caela Farren, Ph. D.
, is Founder and President of MasteryWorks, Inc., - a leading Career Development consulting organization offering innovative solutions to large and mid-size companies, including Bayer, Baylor Health Care, Brown Forman, CapitalOne, Northrop Grumman, Reebok, Sprint, Sandia National Labs and Sodexo. MasteryWorks, Inc. provides enterprise web portals, training, consulting, e-Learning, and an assessment framework for employees and managers. For more than thirty-five years, Dr. Farren has been a passionate leader around complex issues redefining the workplace. She envisioned the current workplace climate fifteen years ago, when she published a cornerstone compendium on career development, “Who’s Running Your Career: Creating Stable Work in Unstable Times” (Bard Press, 1997). Through MasteryWorks, Inc., she oversees solutions that create the foundation for impact-filled “career conversations” - centered on increased contribution, performance, and fit. She is a leading authority of strategic approaches which consistently deliver employee engagement and retention goals for her clients.

For more information, contact Adam Alexander, Vice President, or call us at (703) 256-5712.

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