At mid-career or the halftime of life, many start thinking about constructing meaningful work that provides a sense of purpose, fulfillment, significance and satisfaction. Napoleon Hill (1883-1970), author of Think and Grow Rich said, “The soul of man is embodied in his work.” French philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960) said that “Without work, all life goes rotten. But when work is soulless, life stifles and dies.” So when life got turned upside-down with shutdowns, many started evaluating their work situation. Currently, it’s become clear that crowded offices won’t be coming back anytime soon, even though there are some now demanding workers to return to the office. According to WFH Research, a data-collection project, six times more work was happening remotely in January 2023 than in January 2019.
The article in Forbes entitled Top 30 Companies for Remote Jobs in 2023 confirms the popularity of work-from-anywhere jobs. However, the truly location-independent work is not as common, as many remote jobs have geographic requirements. FlexJobs lists 100 companies to watch for in pursuing remote jobs. Even though working from anywhere sounds ideal with its flexibility, meaningful work takes on many forms and doesn’t always include remote work or branching out on an entrepreneurial venture. Here, we cover five characteristics of meaningful work.
One: Work that Provides Autonomy and Creativity
The freedom to follow one’s heart doesn’t always produce prosperity and success. To truly have freedom is also to have structure. Creativity also demands structure. Most songs, books or proposals don’t just write themselves, regardless of what may be touted by those who have penned a project with a flash of inspiration. For example, each of the thirty-two Beethoven Sonatas (1795-1822) contain a theme that is repeated throughout the score. There’s a predictable structure among all of the sonatas. Many other music compositions also have a clear structure throughout.
I have known those who made a huge life-change, changing their location and job, thinking they were buying more freedom. But months later, they found themselves not accomplishing any of their goals. They often ended up returning to a situation similar to what they left behind. This is why I encourage those who are thinking about expanding into a different area to start with a side business, taking small steps to test the waters and grow before making a drastic change. (Free: Side Business webinar)
This advice is especially relevant for those who want to start writing or pursuing their art. Creating a schedule with regular time set aside to create will produce enough momentum to move forward. You also may find you don’t have the discipline to write regularly and that’s a good thing to find out as a side business.
Two: Work that will Inspire and Educate
It became very apparent after the shutdowns that our education system is lacking in many areas. Reading and math skills are low and even non-existent in many areas, no matter how affluent. Not everyone has the patience to listen to a child read or help an adult learner. But doing so could be tremendously rewarding and will make a difference for our current and future generations. A good place to start is with our own families or areas of influence.
Education does not consist of just book-learning, but experience stimulates the imagination. Trips to the zoo, to a museum or even a farm are inspiring and very educational. Hands-on learning is not only good for education, but good for the psyche and mental health of both the teacher and the student.
Three: Work that Provides Intellectual Stimulation
A lifelong learner attitude will take us far in the process of developing meaningful work. Even if one stays at a current place of employment, there are ways to continue personal and professional development that keep minds active and engaged. There are many online learning opportunities to be found that are reasonable and are accessible 24-7. (check out Online Learning)
When I was teaching at our local university, I applied for grant-writing workshops as well as several grants and those opportunities were provided because I pursued them. I also recently attended a day-conference in a field that is outside my area of focus because I responded to an email. I was a bit nervous as it centered mostly around technology. However, I knew I would probably glean and learn something that I could apply to my work. I was right. And I wasn’t totally lost—I was able to follow along and even do the online lab work. I was able to walk away with a few more ideas, not even related to the conference, but that could help my business.
Four: Work that Makes a Difference
You don’t need to start or work in a non-profit organization to make a difference. It’s possible to engage in purposeful work in most any organization with the right focus. Thinking through and establishing core values is an important part of this process. They are the foundation of purposeful living and work. For this reason, I provided an additional chapter in the appendix of my book Stop Circling because of their importance.
Your core values determine the driving force of your life. They should be unmovable principles that you stand for. I encourage people to focus on two central areas, faith and character. Many start thinking more about their purpose and core values when entering the second half of life, especially if they have worked hard at building a career and business and are ready for a change. Those with strong values find tremendous peace of mind.
Five: Work that Connects with Others
Remote work is not for everyone. The song made famous by Barbra Streisand says it all: People Need People. Virtual meetings will continue—they are not going away. Also, flexible work schedules. But many people enjoy interacting with others in a work environment. There is a certain amount of energy and momentum that is created with easy access to coworkers and team members. When you don’t have that for period of time, you miss it.
Google’s Bay View office in California provides large areas where workers interact with each other. There are two kitchens that serve seven cafes. They do have office partitions, but lots of open space. It has worked well for creativity and communication. After multiple delays due to the shutdowns, Apple started bringing employees back to its Apple Park campus in April 2022 in Cupertino, California. They saw the importance of connection with each.
We’ve listed five characteristics of meaningful work but there are more you can define for your life and situation. Work is good and it is a healthy part of living. A feeling of accomplishment is good for the soul. That feeling from work is even more pleasurable for those who have created significant and meaningful work. Meaningful work doesn’t have to be different than a present situation. It could be with making slight changes, work that seemed aimless and dull could turn into meaningful work for the years ahead. That is my wish for you.
A feeling of accomplishment is good for the soul.
Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author
If you are interested in growing and learning, check out our online courses here: Online Learning