Finding meaning in your work can be a challenge. Even if you like what you do — or maybe, like me, you love what you do — it can be a little tough to see how you’re making a real difference.
Doug Kessler is the creative director for Velocity, a B2B marketing agency, and he’s been thinking about this for a while.
I jumped at the chance to hear his talk, “The Search for Meaning in the Ordinary Job,” at the Spark the Change conference here in London.
A journey of self-discovery
Doug’s own “midlife soul search” came about when he overheard someone in a bar complaining “My work is meaningless!”
It left him wondering, “Is my work meaningless? What am I doing that’s so important?”
Later that fateful networking night, someone asked him, “Have you always been in marketing?” And that’s the moment that, aside from a childhood dream to be a bluegrass singer or a pro baseball pitcher, he realized, yes — he had indeed always been in marketing.
And we’re not even talking about the “glamorous” side of business-to-consumer marketing, but a B2B marketer.
“So how did I find myself spending so many days, so many weeks, so many years doing this job?” Doug’s internal monologue continued.
Doug enjoyed his work a lot. And he sure loved that it allowed him to provide for his family.
But what Doug needed was more meaning.
“Maybe it isn’t ‘Capital-m Meaning’ but a little aggregation of little meanings,” he recalled saying to himself. “And if I could find that, I could banish that horrible thing called doubt.”
Doug created an exercise for himself that helped him bridge the meaning gap.
It didn’t narrow his answer down to a snappy line or two. But what it did do was help him map out a web of priorities and activities that could keep his work aligned with the values that were most meaningful to him.
I’m going to share with you so you can search for meaning (or many smaller meanings) in your day job too.
Mapping out meaning: Your tools
First, write down five to six things you value in a good day’s work.
These were Doug’s — maybe they sound familiar?
- I love helping companies grow.
- I like helping clients find success in their careers.
- I like working alongside smart, talented, and creative people engaged in what they do.
- I love learning new things. If that slows down, so does my job satisfaction.
- I like honest work that asks me to build a great case for my client.
- I like figuring out how the “business of business” actually works.
Now think about why each of these values matter to you — and how it affects your job choices.
Pair each value with a kind of guideline. The guideline can help you choose where your work is headed and who you decide to work with.
Here is where those values took Doug:
Helping companies grow: “This means choosing to work with companies I admire,” said Doug. He added that he’d personally struggle with helping a tobacco company expand, when proper usage kills the customer.
Helping clients find success: “This means it’s hugely important to work with clients that I like and respect,” he explained.
Working with wonderful colleagues: Doug looks for colleagues that are “mature enough to let themselves give their whole hearts to what they do — if it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing fully.”
Learning new things: Since he loves learning new things, it makes it hugely important to choose projects that are challenging.
Having honest work: Let’s face it, marketing can be about manipulating customers sometimes. So Doug has to keep his eyes peeled for clients really worth promoting.
Understanding business: He wants clients that are willing to be transparent about their business and want to focus on strategy. In other words, he says, he looks for clients who “treat us like partners and not suppliers.”
Taking time to reflect
Maybe it’s not about finding meaning in your work, but creating it there, explained Doug.
That’s why these guidelines are important: “They matter because every day is good in your life if you are true to them. For each of these sources of meaning, there is a kind of imperative” that acts as your moral compass.
If you see yourself distancing from these sources of meaning, that’s a big red flag alerting you that something is off. And, when you’re on track, your work will actually feel more meaningful to you.
Are you a B2B marketer searching for meaning in your work-life? You can check out Doug’s hugely popular Slideshare:
How do you find meaning in the daily grind? Comment below or tweet us a pic of what gives you meaning at @RedboothHQ and @JKRiggins!