Escaping the Mundane to Find Meaning at Work

You have the perfect job. Congratulations. All the hard work and extensive (and expensive) studies paid off. You have a role that you’ve always dreamt of. It surely has it all – it’s meaningful, fulfilling, and pays well.  You are ready to the change the world.

But what if it isn't so?

The promise of excitement and fulfillment turns into a mundane nine to five.

Your hopes for changing the world turn into pleasing your boss and making them look good.

Your organization has a noble mission, and yet, you don’t see how your work is making any tangible difference. 

You get cynical and tell yourself that one can’t change the world anyway. 

So you settle. You wake up every day and keep doing the same thing over and over again. 

But what if there’s another way? 

What if you can find purpose and meaning in your current job or industry, while still keeping your paycheck and advancing in your career? 

This post is for all of you who would like to find ways to help change the world for the better, inside your organization or out. For those whose only motivation is money and self-gratifying success, you can stop reading; this post isn’t going to be of much use to you.
Alright, let’s get to it.

No matter the industry, people like us are driven by the desire to have an impact, small or big. We hope what we do in the short time we have on the Earth will reach beyond our selfish needs. We seek to create a legacy. 

What animates me is the fight for freedom. Growing up in post-communist Central Europe, I was deeply aware of the opportunities my parents didn’t have which were offered to my generation by the fall of the Berlin Wall. I knew these opportunities can’t be taken for granted.

I’ve always felt blessed that I got to follow my dream of working in international affairs. I attended all the right university courses, got all the relevant experience, and found that perfect job in Washington, DC, the world affairs capital. By any industry standards, I have done fairly well and have advanced in my career. People around me would say that I thrive at my job and love it, even. 

But something was off. Working for a foreign policy think-tank means that you do an awful lot of thinking; and yes, occasionally, you have the opportunity to brief your ideas to really smart people who can really change the world.

Yet, the years would pass, and the world is still in trouble. Despite the work of all brilliant people in this field, there is still war in the Middle East, Russia’s back to being an enemy, and Europe is more divided than ever. 

It’s sometimes hard to focus on the “big picture” when you literally can’t fix it.  And still, there is a way you can find meaning and purpose in our job, no matter what industry. 

But you have to start small.

I found my renewed purpose through the Eagerly DC blog that I started with my husband. Through my career, I’ve met incredible people who have shared their time, advice, and guidance to help me grow. And while I am still not done learning, I decided to start passing forward what I’ve learned along the way. 

I figured that while I can’t change the state of world affairs, I can help other passionate young people who want to make a difference, too.  

Eagerly provided new meaning in my career. And while this effort is still new and the nature of my full-time job doesn’t allow me to dedicate my full attention to this cause, I am certainly motivated and inspired by every person who benefits from our advice and the kind notes we receive from people who found use in our tips on networking, informational interviews or how to get their start in the nation’s capital.

Mentorship is just one way how you can find meaning in your career, even if the big picture isn’t quite what you hoped it would be. 

Here are a few questions you can ask to drive impact through your work, too:

1.  What do people ask you when they need advice? 

Everyone has a strength. Think about what people ask you when they need help. That’s your niche, your unique quality. Bet on it and figure out how to turn it into a side hustle toward greater effect.  

2.  What is the problem you have? 

If you are struggling with something at work or in your private life, chances are other people have the same problem. Ask yourself if there is something you can do to help fix it. Try finding a solution and then help others find it, too. 

3.  Who can you serve? 

Even though you might not be changing the world, you can make a difference; by serving your constituents – your clients, your partners, superiors, younger people in your industry who you can help grow, or people in your community whose lives you can improve. Finding ways of helping other people and being of service is one of the most fulfilling things you can do in any industry.

4.  What are the gaps in your field? 

Finding meaning doesn’t need to be through an outside commitment that you take on. Think about the areas that are not working in your company. Can you help find a solution? Help your company find new ways of doing business, so it works better and becomes more agile and profitable.

In my field, I can’t solve the refugee crisis, but I can help my organization find ways to be more creative and innovative, help identify the gaps, and propose ways to fix them. Trust me, if you put yourself in a position where you bring good ideas to make your company better, you will not only be motivated and driven, you will also get noticed. There is nothing more impactful and fulfilling than seeing your ideas become a reality. 

Lastly, no matter what you do, remember that making an impact is not about changing the world. It’s about making a difference – one person, one project, one organization at a time. 

Do you know any other entrepreneurs or business owners that would find this blog series useful?  If so, please feel free to share this, and have them sign up here.

Huge thanks to our guest blogger
Simona Lightfoot is the Deputy Director at the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy institute based in Washington, DC. In 2016, she co-founded Eagerly DC, a career and lifestyle guide for emerging professionals in public policy and international affairs. 

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