find meaning

How to Find Meaning Even When Your Job Sucks!

Do you find your work role purposeful? Do find meaning and purpose in it? Or is it something you do because it enables you to pay the bills? If you’re a leader, these questions are not only important for you to answer, but also important for you to understand how the individuals within your team would answer.

Not all of us are blessed to work in roles we find fulfilling, and I’m not a believer in the often held view of motivational and transformational gurus, that everyone can find an inspiring, purposeful and meaningful work role. Yet, what we know from leading researchers in the field of meaning in life and meaning at work, including Mike Steger and Paul Wong, is that there are far and wide reaching benefits to individuals and their organizations when employees can find meaning at work.

When Daily Events Become Personal

I’ve become even more aware lately that daily events can have a significant impact on people’s lives, but still go unnoticed by the rest of the world. It’s only when we become aware of events at a more personal level when they impact ourselves, a family member, a friend. or a colleague, that we sit up and take notice.

At work, one customer’s negative experience may go largely unnoticed until it’s reported on social media and the company gets boycotted by potential and existing customers. Suddenly, for management of that company… it’s personal.

At home, we hear of this tragedy or that, but it’s not until tragedy hits a family member, friend, or colleague that our level of awareness is raised… it’s personal.

Some time ago now, one of the major free-to-air TV stations here in Australia (the Channel Nine Network) axed one of its popular TV shows called ‘Australia’s Funniest Home Videos’ which had been screening for the best part of two decades. Whether or not you’ve watched the show (or something similar), it would be fair enough if you thought something like ‘well, that’s no big deal’. Because that’s exactly what I’ve thought when other TV shows have been axed… no big deal. Except, that’s not what I think anymore. You see, I now realize that when a TV show is cut, there is an entire production crew and ‘talent’ appearing in the show who lose their jobs.

The reason I know this is because my eldest son Matt was part of that show’s production crew, and he, like 90% of the production team, lost their jobs. I only mention this because it’s an example of how, when things get personal, we view them through a different lens of perception (And by the way, Matt’s resilience is amazing and he’s getting real creative about what’s next for him).

Defining Your Intentions for Each Role

I read a great article some time ago now, from Business Insider by Tony Schwartz on ‘What Gets You Up In The Morning?’ What I really liked about Tony’s article is his suggestion for us to come up with a new mantra by asking ourselves, “Why are you doing what you’re doing?” The article is all about purpose; when we wake up in the morning without purpose in our lives, we live a purposeless life, one without much meaning.

As I’ve written earlier in this post, not all of us are blessed to be working in roles that we find fulfilling, and I’m not a believer in the often held view of motivational and transformational gurus, that everyone can find a work role that is inspiring, purposeful and meaningful. However, when we define our intention for each life role and get clear about our intentions for the people we impact within our various life roles, it is in that process where we can find meaning, purpose, and inspiration.

Our son Matt certainly didn’t see his role as Production Assistant as an inspiring role. However, his bigger picture and focus was that this was a step in the right direction for him. His focus was on learning and also enjoying the relationships with the other members of his production team. So if you’re in a role that has purpose, meaning, and that inspires you, be grateful for that opportunity.

However, if your work-role lacks purpose, meaning, and requires a bit of a personal effort to get out of bed in the morning, look for inspiration through setting clear positive intentions for the people you impact through your work role.

The Impact of Your Intentions

find meaning

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts here on Switch and Shift, your intentions are not just what you intend to do. They are a mindful awareness of what you intend to do, an understanding of why you intend to do what you intend to do, and clarity about the impact of your intended actions on others.

Here are three simple steps to find meaning at work,even when your work sucks:

  1. Make a list of the people you impact through your work role(s)
  2. Write an Intention Statement for each of these people (or groups of people). Ask yourself, for each of the people you impact directly or indirectly at work, what do you want for them (not what do you want from them)?
  3. Start an intentional conversation with each person, to ensure what you want for them is what they want or expect from you.

You may not have a macro WHY (a clear purpose, meaning or intention). However, by focusing on your micro WHY’s (your intentions for the people you impact in your various personal and work life roles), you will be able to live a more purposeful, meaningful, and inspirational life regardless of the work-role you have.

In other words, make the relationships you have in your life more intentionally personal; they will matter more. And when things matter more, you’ll find meaning, purpose, and inspiration.



David Penglase is one of Australia’s leading corporate educators, specialising on the impact of intentional trust on all aspects of our business and personal success. David is one of Australia’s most sought after professional conference speakers, delivering engaging, entertaining and inspiring keynotes and masterclasses to large conference audiences locally and internationally across a wide range of industries, and has been inducted into the Australian professional speakers’ Hall of Fame. He is a prolific researcher and writer, and his latest book, Intentionomics practically outlines the science behind the impact of our intentions on living happy, flourishing and prosperous lives. David has degrees in business and human resource development. He has an MBA and a Master degree in Professional Ethics. He is currently completing a Master Degree in Applied Positive Psychology.

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