The Secret to Meaningful Work

Let me tell you about one of the best moments of my career journey. I was sitting at my desk at work, with a piece of paper in front of me. I knew it was time to leave event planning so I was brainstorming ideas for a new job.  

But instead of aimlessly searching Google for ideas like I had in the past, I was filling in a Venn Diagram. In one circle, I had a list of words under “values." In the second circle was a list of words for “skills.” And in the third circle were possible job ideas that would fit both of those lists.  

In other words, I was shaping my job search based on what I had learned about myself. I was actively looking for jobs that would fit me.

Let me tell you: knowing more about myself gave me so much confidence and made the job-hunting process much easier.

I would look at different job options, then look back at my strengths and values and could immediately know whether or not they were good fits. I could cross off options that weren’t right for me without thinking twice about it.

And when I found options that did interest me, I was much more confident in pursuing them because I knew they connected to my skills and interests.

But there were still some questions in the back of my mind. 

What if I found myself interested in a job that involved something totally new?

How would I convince someone to hire me if I had a lot of interest, but I didn’t have all the skills?

And then there was this personal question: After years of struggling with work, would this new job finally make me happy?

Maybe you’re feeling the same way. You’ve taken an inventory of your strengths. You know your values. You know what you’re curious about. And you know your zone of genius.

But then comes the practical part of this process: figuring out the right job for yourself.

It’s exciting, but it’s not always easy and maybe you’re struggling with some of the same questions I did.

In this lesson,

I will walk you through three of the biggest lessons I learned when I moved to the practical job search.

I will explain how you can pursue a job based on interest even if you don’t have all the skills.

I will show you how to think about your career as an evolving portfolio rather than a one-time achievement.

And I will guide you on how to set boundaries so you can enjoy a balanced and meaningful life.

The first lesson I learned was that my interests are valid.

When I decided to move on from event planning, I first focused on new jobs that I knew would fit my skills. For example, I considered working in human resources. I thought it was a great fit for me. After all, I was getting a Master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology and most people with this degree went into HR.  

But the more I explored it, the more I realized I wasn’t really interested in HR. I realized that most of the jobs were process-based. People in HR managed things like payroll and recruiting, two processes that basically required doing the same things over and over again. The people I met with seemed to enjoy it. But for me, I knew it wouldn’t work.

I needed to be project-based but not process-based.

So often, we’re told to stick to practical options, to jobs that fit our current experiences and skills.

But this advice can lead us to ignore other interests that nag at us deep inside.

We ignore them because we think they don’t count.

But I followed my interests and you have the freedom to do the same.

As I kept exploring, I discovered that I was really interested in marketing. It was project-based. It would allow me to combine my skills in communications and data analysis, and it would also allow me to learn more about growing a business, which was something I was interested in at the time.

But... I had a couple things working against me. I had no formal training in any business-related field. I didn’t have a business degree, and I had no experience in marketing.

But I didn’t let that stop me. I put those limitations aside and went for it anyway. In the long-run, following that idea paid off. I got the job in marketing and loved it.

Here’s the main takeaway: You have permission to explore your options.

You have permission to listen to your interests, even the wild ones.

Are there interests that you have discounted?

Do you have ideas that you could explore further?  

What are possible career paths that you’ve ignored because they don’t seem to fit with what you’ve done so far?  

The key to your next step might involve turning inward and giving these questions the attention they deserve.

Second, I learned that we have to reframe how we view our careers.

Many of us tend to think of our careers as one specific thing that we find and do for the rest of our lives. But I’ve found that it’s more helpful to think of our careers as portfolios.

Portfolio-thinking allows you to leverage all of your experiences, and gives you permission to explore new options.

Instead of focusing only on the skills you have, you’re free to look for interesting opportunities to leverage those skills while learning new ones, possibly in a totally new field.

Best of all, this approach allows you to be more flexible when you need a change. 

The career options that are good for you right now might not be the best in a few years.

And that’s okay. Your career is a journey to enjoy, not a problem to solve.

When I was ready to get out of event planning, I took time to look back over my career and started to see it differently.

Instead of just focusing on the two professional jobs I had, I began to look at a bigger picture of my whole life and realized I had many useful experiences outside my day job.

For example, I included in my portfolio: 

the meetings I had with my mentor,

the marketing project I worked on as a special assignment,

and the job shadowing I did in the marketing department so I could see what it was like to work on those kinds of projects.

Even though these activities weren’t directly related to my day job, they still gave me valuable experience that I could use in my next position.

The same is true for you.

Maybe you help your friends with a project on the weekends, but you don’t mention it in interviews because it’s just a side-gig.

Perhaps you’ve done hours of pro-bono work but don’t think it counts because you didn’t get paid for it.

Or maybe you’ve volunteered in your community for years but you never mention it because it doesn’t sound professional enough.

As you begin to build your portfolio, don’t ignore these experiences... everything counts. 

The third lesson I learned was that having meaningful work is not the same as having a meaningful life.

When I went from event planning to marketing, I believed that my new job was going to make me happy. I thought that if I was higher up in the department’s hierarchy, if my calendar was loaded with meetings, if I had a much bigger salary, then I would finally be happy, content, and fulfilled.

So I threw my whole self into that marketing job for two years. I made my entire life about getting to the next level in the department. I neglected my husband, my friends and my family. Even when I wasn’t actually working, I was stressed out thinking about work.

I was skipping lunches and workouts. At night, I could barely find the energy to make something for dinner.

And I did it. I got the promotion and all the things that I thought would bring me fulfillment… every. single. one of them.

And you know what? I was wrong.

Within a couple months of that promotion, I was so disappointed. I was literally curled up on the couch at night, weeping. I had poured everything I had into getting that new role. Only to get it and realize it wasn’t worth everything I had sacrificed for it... my health, my relationships, my sanity.

At the end of the day, I had become so focused on getting the role, that I neglected all the other things that gave me a full life.

What I didn’t know at the time was that a meaningful job is only one part of a fulfilling life.

Fulfillment is not just about working hard. It’s about investing in the other spheres of your life that have nothing to do with making money—investing in your health, your relationships, your community. It’s all of these things combined with your paid work, that will give you an overall sense of fulfillment.

If your job is the only thing you invest in, it doesn’t matter how meaningful it is… you will burn out.

Before you turn to the exercises in the workbook, I want to share a quote from psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar. In his book, Happier, he writes:

“What we need if we are to implement change in our lives is courage. And courage is not about not having fear but about having fear and going ahead anyway.”

I’m so glad you’ve made it this far and I’m excited for you to wrap up the course in the next lesson.