How can you find meaning and purpose through work? Aligning your values with what you do.

I recently completed some Career Coaching with a professional executive coach. As part of this, I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what my ‘values’ are. It sounds fairly new-age to try to make your ‘values’ fit with how you spend your working life, but doing this reflection has actually given me a fantastic framework against which to assess what I do on a daily basis and whether it’s worth my time and energy.

Figuring this out required me to think of big decision points, turning points or moments of transition in my life (both personal life and working life), and analyse my motivations for the decisions I made. For instance, what was I trying to accomplish or avoid? What problem was I trying to solve? Why did I choose that path and not another?

For me, this work confirmed something I already knew deep down. My key values, motivations or the drivers of my significant life choices came down to five things:

  • Freedom
  • Partnership
  • Adventure
  • Growth/Learning
  • Success/Achievement

Interestingly, these five factors hold true for most decisions I make now, even the small ones like what I do on the weekends. Anyone who knows me would say that I’m overwhelmingly motivated or driven by a desire for these things. Luckily I have found work that satisfies all of them most of the time.

These factors to find meaning and purpose through work will vary for all of us. Some people are driven by seeking a sense of belonging; or motivated by doing good in the world and helping people; others are driven by wanting to get as far away as possible from the circumstances they grew up in! Whatever your drivers are, it’s useful work because it helps you to distil what you want from your work and your life in general. You can then make decisions – big and small — using this as criteria. If something doesn’t align with your top motivators/drivers, you can choose not to do it.

It can also help you choose what type of work you want to do and in what sector/s. For instance, if you are motivated by gaining financial freedom, chances are that you won’t be able to achieve that in the not-for-profit sector. But if you’re driven by finding meaning in helping other people, then charity work is probably a great fit for you. It’s all about finding what is right for your ‘true self’ and you can only figure that out through a lot of reflection.

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