What Does ‘Meaning’ Mean and How Do We Find Meaningful Work?

A guide to help you find meaningful work.

von Naomi Ryland, January 12, 2018

Many people, including us at tbd*, concern themselves a great, great deal with the notion of having a meaningful job. One thing is clear – these days virtually everyone is looking for a job with meaning. However it’s much easier to say, “I’m looking for meaningful work” than it is to actually find it.

Meaningful Work 
Meaningful work, or a job with meaning, with sense, doesn’t necessary mean having a position at an NGO or founding your own social business, because even this type of work can be meaningless. Also, it might not even fit your personality and abilities. Essentially, 'meaning' is a personal thing. It’s not about finding answers, but rather asking the right questions in the first place, in terms of what 'meaningful' actually means to you.

Something could seem perfectly meaningful and make sense for one person could be a complete nightmare for another. But how are we supposed to know what kind of meaning we are looking for and where we should look?

Thankfully, there are people who try to answer the great question of our generation or at least help us find the answers ourselves. The book, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, can certainly help you along the way. It’s not about finding answers, but rather asking the right questions in the first place.

Are you looking for a meaningful job, but don’t quite know what it looks like? Ask yourself these questions. Grab a pen and piece of paper now and write down the answers. Go from one to five all the way through and don’t leave any out. At the end, you won’t have found an ideal meaningful job per se, but you will be much more certain about what you are looking for.

Meaningful work reflects you as a person. So who are you?

  • What do you love about yourself?
  • In what positive way are you unusual or a little bit strange?
  • How do you want to be perceived by others?
  • What has made you really happy lately?
  • What has made you really sad recently?

Meaningful work reflects your interests.

  • What things are really important to you?
  • Which injustices make you angry?
  • What personal experiences have you had that contribute to your world view?

Meaningful work allows you to use your talents.

  • What are your personal talents and strengths?
  • Which of these talents and strengths do you enjoy using?
  • What do you want to learn more about or understand better?
  • Which course would you love to take?
  • Who is a role model that you would like to talk to?

Meaningful work allows you to help others.

  • What impact do you want to have?
  • What impact did you have in past jobs?
  • Do you have to see daily results from your work?
  • Do you need to have a personal relationship with the people that you are helping?

Meaningful work is financially suited to your lifestyle.

  • What are your weekly and monthly costs?
  • What are the components that make up your quality of life?
  • How much money do you need to achieve your quality of life?
  • Can a job or an opportunity outside of your work also fulfill you?
  • What does work life balance mean to you?

Ideally your work gives you more energy than it takes from you. But if that’s not the case, talk about it with your bosses, colleagues and co-founders. You don’t have to accept the status quo and put up with it. You can change things yourself. It’s highly likely that your colleagues or boss feel the same way. Together, we can attempt to find a solution.

Originally published May 24, 2017