Finding Meaning in Your Career

"What is your current work doing to you as a person—to your mind, character, and relationships?"—Roman Krznaric in How to Find Fulfilling Work

In the book How to Find Fulfilling Work, Roman Krznaric talks about the five "dimensions of meaning," which are:

  1. Earning money
  2. Achieving status
  3. Making a difference
  4. Following your passions
  5. Using your talents

Take a second to read through this list a few times, and then reorder it so it matches up with your priorities in life.

If you're considering your "next," think about what your ideal new career would provide you. If you're not looking for a new career at the moment, think about how your current job affects you.

Let's examine each of the five dimensions, keeping in mind your current or ideal career.

We often narrow down the "best" career choices to only include the highest-paying ones. Making enough money is important: we need to have a roof over our heads and food on the table. But think about income from a wider perspective for a moment. What is "comfortable" living to you? What monthly bills could you live without? What are your spending habits, and would you be willing to change them? What career fields might suit you well if income wasn't a priority? What is one "dream" job that probably wouldn't provide a high income? Would it be worth it to you?

Have you ever taken a raise or been pushed into a position you didn't quite want because you felt you had to live up to others' expectations of status, or success? How much weight do you give others' definitions of status or success? For your work to be meaningful to you, do you need to have a certain status? (Be honest with—and kind to—yourself here; there's nothing wrong with desiring a certain status in your career. In fact, the more you know about your needs, the easier it will be to find a career that is meaningful for you.)

Making a Difference
What does "making a difference" mean to you? Does it mean helping others, and seeing immediate results? Or having an impact that unfolds over the long-term? Do you feel you're making a difference in your current job, or would a different career provide more fulfillment in this arena?

Following Your Passions
The "starving artist" comes to mind here—the person who follows their dreams, no matter what difficulties lie in the path ahead. But it's also important to be realistic. Think about what you absolutely love to do: something you would do even if you weren't paid for it. Now, have people successfully made careers out of this passion? Alternatively, is there a way for you to tie your passion(s) into your current career?

Using Your Talents
Make a list of your top five skills or talents. They could be anything, whether or not they're career-related. Now look at that list and pick the skills or talents that are relevant to a job (in any field). Maybe you're a talented writer. Perhaps you have a great ability to rally a team behind you. Maybe you're a skilled negotiator who just happens to have a great singing voice. Think about ways you can use all your talents more—if not in your career, than in your personal life.

Thinking about the five dimensions above, would making changes in any of these five dimensions change your life for the better? Have you neglected one of the dimensions, and put too much weight on another? If you're unhappy with your current career, which of the five dimensions is lacking the most? What would your new career ideally emphasize?

Further Reading
How to Find Fulfilling Work, by Roman Krznaric (Picador, 2013)

Posted on June 15, 2016 .