3 Myths Of Meaningful Work

I can still remember the day I decided to leave my event planning job. I was terrified.

Not only was I scared to change jobs and explore a totally new field, but I also struggled to believe that my desire for a better job was valid.

Was it okay that I wanted to change industries?

Would it destroy my career to leave a job where I had become a manager?

What exactly would the path forward look like?

Answering these questions is one of the hardest parts of taking control of your career. In many ways, you have to validate your own journey.

It isn’t always easy to know if you’re doing it right.

And there’s no perfectly outlined path for you to find fulfilling work. This is something you have to figure out for yourself.

In this lesson, we’re going to explore three of the most common myths about meaningful work. You’ll also learn how to determine next steps based on your curiosities. And, how to validate your career journey by identifying your values.

The first myth we believe is that our work needs to be connected to our passion.

We hear people say things like “Follow your passion,” and “What are you passionate about?”

But this advice is a bit misleading. It assumes that you only have one meaningful thing that you should spend all of your time doing as a job, which is not true. You have many options.

Additionally, the word “passion” is a little tricky. It refers to a strong, burning emotional feeling. When people say they’re passionate about something, they usually mean that they feel strongly about it.

Passion is not entirely a bad thing, but it is a short-term, intense emotional feeling that can fade.

You don’t want passion to be the only thing that drives your work.

It’s great in small doses, but it’s only sustainable when combined with curiosity.

Curiosity is about learning new things, solving enjoyable challenges and gaining knowledge.  

It’s much more fulfilling and sustainable than passion.

Remember when I told you in the last lesson about changing my career from event planning into marketing?

Well, one of the reasons I chose marketing was because I was so curious about it. I had a large knowledge gap and I desperately wanted to fill it.

That curiosity motivated me at work more than passion ever could have.

This is the best thing about curiosity: it generates its own energy.

It keeps you going even when you don’t have a strong emotional connection to the tasks at hand.

When it comes to finding work you enjoy, look for options that generate a bit of passion. But, more importantly, that stoke your curiosity.

This leads us to a question: How do you discover your core curiosities?

Start by following your interests. Notice what attracts you.

What sticks?

Which ones keep nagging at you?

Which ones make you lose track of time?

Those are probably your core curiosities and you should not ignore them.

Keep in mind, work doesn’t have to fulfill all of your interests, but when it’s connected to a few of your core curiosities, it makes work more interesting.

That’s what makes you excited about going to work. If work is boring, you wake up bored, you don’t want to go. But if your work is connected to some of your interests, you’ll be more motivated to stick with it for a longer period of time.

Here’s the second myth: We often believe that the only work that’s meaningful is work that’s attached to a social cause.

There are so many important issues worth caring about that it’s easy to get inspired by the photos we see and the amazing stories we hear of people doing great things around the world.

We want to be part of those exciting missions.

But there are two things to keep in mind.

First, this kind of work often requires people to do lots of small, unseen, and tedious tasks for a long time.

Even if you work for an organization with a great mission, if the day-to-day work doesn’t connect to your zone of genius, you probably won’t feel that great about it.

Second, while it’s great to care about these issues, it is so easy to get caught up with a particular issue because it’s popular or because we feel like we should care about it.

The truth is, what makes work fulfilling is not that you work for a daring non-profit or that you’re on the front lines of a critical social issue.

What makes work fulfilling is when what you do on a daily basis matches your strengths, your values, and your sense of what’s important whether or not that translates into working for a social cause.

Here’s the main takeaway: Help with causes you care about, but don’t rush to make these issues the core of your job search.

Instead, follow your values.

Values are sustainable and stable. They help you make decisions and motivate you to stick with the decisions you make. 

Values are principles that shape what’s important to you. 

Typically, you get your values from meaningful relationships and important life experiences. They shape who you are and guide your decision-making.

For example, when I was considering a change from event planning to marketing, I was thinking about applying to work at a different company that was closer to my house.

But I decided not to go with them and to stay with my current employer instead. Here’s why: My current company helped provide young families with life insurance.

Whereas the other company made household goods. While I loved their products, I realized that I truly resonated with the mission of my current employer.  

In my own life, I had seen what it was like for a young family to struggle with the loss of a primary earner. I wanted to be part of that mission to help families have security in the case of crisis or tragedy.

Even though I wasn’t on the front lines, I enjoyed being part of this mission because it resonated with my values.

So I decided to stay. 

Here’s the final myth: We often think our work is only meaningful if other people say it is.

When I left my job in event planning, some people told me I was making the wrong decision because I was walking away from a position in management.

But here’s the thing… management was meaningful to them, not to me.

At that time, I cared more about learning new things than I did about managing people.

Plus, I was bored out of my mind in event planning and just couldn’t take it any longer.

I knew I had to take a chance and make a change no matter what other people thought.

I know, it can be scary to embark on this journey because you don’t always know if you’re doing it right.

And trust me, you will hear a lot of other people’s opinions. It’s natural to want them to think highly of you, but if you make decisions based on their values, it can be a recipe for discontent, anxiety and dissatisfaction.

Eventually, you will need to tune out their voices and follow your interests and values,

When you do this, not only will you find sustainable career paths, you will also feel more confident about your career decisions.

And, you will discover an internal and long-lasting sense of validation that you can’t get from anyone else.

Now let’s talk about the practical side to this.  

In the workbook, you’ll find a few exercises to guide your exploration of your interests and curiosities. You’ll also complete a values exercise, which will help you identify the principles that guide your life and decision-making.

In closing, I want to leave you with a quote from Liz Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love.  She says:

"Passion is this really intimidating, grand concept. It really is the burning tower of flame in the desert and it can be hard to see that on a random Tuesday when you’re feeling blue.

The other thing about passion is that it’s demanding. It’s greedy. It insists that it take everything out of you. Those are the terms of passion. Passion says throw it all in the pot. Risk it all. You want to make an impact? You have to make a huge change. [...]

In contrast to the demands, the urgency, the greed, the mania that can be associated with passion, curiosity doesn’t do that to you.

Curiosity will never strip your life bare. Curiosity will never make outrageous demands upon you. Curiosity will never take. Curiosity only does one thing. And that is to give.

And what it gives you are clues on the incredible scavenger hunt that is your life."