How To Find Meaning In Your Work [Updated For 2023]

Because money and prestige are no longer enough.


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Last updated: October 19th, 2023

Guide to finding meaningful work

Last updated: October 19th, 2023

Reading Time: 6 minutes

You’re a master in your field; at your professional peak. At ease with who you are and what you stand for. Your track record of achievement is rock-solid.

But you’re feeling the pull to shake things up.

You’re feeling the urge to start the year by finding a job where you get to do more meaningful work.

Here’s why you may be wrestling with this:

  • Your retirement is on the distant horizon.
  • Maybe you have another gig or three left in you, and you want to make them count.
  • You’ve had enough of the corporate world.

It’s also possible that all of the above are true.

Wherever you are in the professional universe, how can you feel confident that you will find meaningful work through your next career move?

By starting with a few concrete steps.

(Related: How To Handle A Counter Offer).

Step 1: Realise You’re Not Alone.

Research shows that meaning is more important to employees than any other aspect of work, at any time in their career, including happiness.

Surprised? Read on.

While happiness and meaning often travel together, they can journey alone just as easily.

A Stanford Business School study, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, revealed this key finding:

“Happiness is linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness goes with being a giver rather than a taker.”

The study surveyed 397 people over a month – examining their life choices, beliefs and values in the context of happiness versus meaning.

Distinct differences emerged around these five themes:

A. Comfort.

While having your physical and materials needs met is a reliable source of happiness, it doesn’t necessarily correlate to meaning.

Example: a healthy person might be happy, but a sick person might experience profound meaning.

B. Time.

Happiness is all about elation in the present moment and is generally not sustainable.

Meaning, on the other hand, is about linking the past, present and future to see patterns, detect self-purpose and derive a self-narrative. It’s an ongoing process.

(Related: Complete Guide To Setting Career Goals).

C. Connections.

Of course, relationships influence both meaning and happiness. But the deeper the relationship, the more it imparts meaning.

Shorter-term, superficial relationships impart more happiness simply because they’re less complex.

D. Stress.

The most meaningful events in our lives are rife with hardships and happiness.

Example: Marriage and parenthood are challenging prospects characterised by countless highs and lows. But if you go through life striving to avoid pain, your sense of purpose and meaning will undoubtedly suffer.

(Related: 14 Best Side Hustle Ideas In Australia).

E. Identity.

If happiness is about getting what you want, then meaning is about expressing and defining who you are—driven by a keen sense of self that knowingly links to the larger web of life.

Something tells me you’re a seeker of meaning at work.

That you’re as much a giver as you are a taker (maybe you’re more of the former). But you’ve been around long enough to know that life is never that black and white.

“My only advice for you is this. Go within yourself and probe the depths from which your life springs.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

(Related: How To Become A HR Manager In Australia).

Step 2: Look Inside.

Where do you stand right now on the happiness versus meaning scale?

Let’s dive deeper into the most potent themes above, using your personal story as a guide. Doing this will help you find the right career for you more quickly.

A. Comfort. 

Perhaps you’ve gotten too comfortable in your current job and the thought of letting it go feels impossible.

People are counting on you. People have supported you along the way. Endless excuses pop up at the mere suggestion of a major change.

After all, our stories are shaped by our environment and the people who listen to them. Is your giving nature unconsciously limiting what’s possible for your next phase?

B. Time.

Imagine you’re at your 90th birthday party, reflecting back on your life. If there was one path you had regrets about not pursuing, what would it be?

Chances are any palpable pang of regret indicates a path worth pursuing. Now … picture the next five or so years of your career. What do you see?

Don’t leave that story untold. Do some taking. In the end, you’ll have the capacity to give more.

C. Identity.

Allow yourself to consider this question during some quiet time: When do you feel most like yourself? Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve really felt like “you.”

Think back to the things that used to make you feel alive, authentic and real – when you lost track of time and found yourself in flow.

How can your next career move reconnect you with your core essence?

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will never lead you astray.” – Rumi

Most business leaders I speak to find great meaning in the process of hiring and mentoring teams. They report feeling most ‘alive’ when their guidance helps unlock new levels of performance amongst their staff.

Your experience may be different; you may find meaning in something other than the role of team mentor. That’s perfectly fine.

The important takeaway here is – once you begin to search inside yourself, be willing to take actions which bring you one step closer to finding meaningful work. This brings us to the next step.

(Related: Bespoke Outplacement Services For C-Suite Executives).

Step 3: Action.

Now that you’ve spent some quality time going inward, it’s time to act.

We’ve already established that a career (and life) with meaning has to involve at least some stress. But it doesn’t mean you have to accept the unnecessary stress that comes from being out of alignment with your inner values.

In that same vein, it doesn’t mean that some of those superficial connections won’t be valuable in your job search.

Don’t discount contacts from your network just because you don’t know them extremely well.

When you’re ready to screen potential employers/opportunities, follow the step-by-step guide below to ensure that you find a job with meaning.

A. Articulate Your Worth.

Ensure that your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile all work together to communicate your value proposition. Make sure your interview skills are up to scratch, too.

(Your value proposition should weave your career into a cohesive story that aligns with your targeted direction in the strongest way possible).

Map any company you’re considering against the value proposition on your resume. Ask yourself—is this opportunity/company/project:

  • Part of who I am?
  • Part of who I am working to become?
  • Part of my purpose in life?

B. Research And Network Virtually.

Think you’ve found a company or role that is a match for your purpose? Does their slogan scream “we do meaningful work”? Don’t believe their marketing. Instead, do this:

  • Check out the company’s reviews on
  • Use LinkedIn to reach out to a few of their employees.
  • Talk to anyone and everyone possible who might know the truth.

Work your connections, both superficial and deep.

C. Network In Person.

See if your efforts in #2 can land you a phone call or coffee date. This is your chance to assess their passion for, and embodiment of, the company’s professed culture.

Is there some disconnect between their marketing messages and reality that your contacts are able or willing to reveal? Or do you simply sense that something is off? Trust your gut.

D. Interview With Purpose.

Be very specific in your questions about the company’s values and how the role you’re discussing supports it. Be clear about your values, and the value you bring.

And again, ask yourself: Do the people you’re meeting embody the culture as it’s marketed? Then, repeat #1.

Does your experience thus far feel like part of who you are and where you’re headed?

(Related: Best Carry On Luggage For Business Travellers).

E. Assess Your Feelings.

Conduct a final gut check for #3 and #4: Do you feel comfortable around the people you’ve met? Does something about the environment feel off?

If something – anything – feels wrong, even if it’s intangible, move on.

Time is precious. And that 90th birthday party we dreamed up earlier may never come.

One Last Thing.

As at any point in your career, doing targeted legwork in advance can help you avoid a world of unneeded stress later – and can help you find meaningful work more quickly.

It’s particularly important as you look forward to the culmination of your career.

You’ve invested so much into your personal brand as it exists today. This is your chance to ensure, without a shadow of a doubt, that you’ve fulfilled your professional purpose.

Don’t rush into anything. Follow your natural curiosity. Commit to taking small concrete steps each and every day. Find your ideal balance between introspection and action.

Because it’s not just your personal brand; it’s your life story. The pen is in your hand.  And as poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote:

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”

– Irene

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