Many dream of landing the perfect job. But do we really know what that means?
Is it a specific company? The size of the company, or the location? Successful work-life integration? Four-day work weeks? Maybe a casual dress-code and Friday happy hours?
Surprisingly enough, ultimately our vision of a “dream job” has little or nothing to do with those things. Instead, for many successful careerists, it comes down to one thing:
Doing meaningful work.
What exactly is meaningful work? It begins quite selfishly: what do you want? But there is more to it than that. Meaningful work involves a sense of joy; we are able to see positive value in what we’re doing. It is a belief in the organizational mission, and our role within that mission. And for many, it is, as business and leadership icon Max De Pree puts it, “maturing, enriching, and fulfilling, healing, and joyful.”
To take a closer look at what meaningful work really looks like, let’s dive deeper into some basic characteristics of work that fulfills us… some of which you may have never thought about as you seek that dream job:
Your Basic Needs Must Be Met
Your emotional and physical safety needs – a base requirement for meaningful work to emerge – must be met. Without that safety net as a foundation, very little will consider work at that organization meaningful.
Your Strengths are Leveraged
Don’t confuse strengths with competency. Competency is what you do well, perhaps naturally or through repetition and experience. Strengths are what energize you – and you must experience work that energizes you. Otherwise, all work is draining and meaning is absent; redundancy is a passion killer.
You Feel Like an Insider
When we believe we are trusted with important, inside knowledge, we feel like we’re part of the team; an inner circle of trust. This includes knowing that there is important information that must, at least for now, be kept confidential from vendors, the competition, and perhaps even from other employees.
You’re Treated with Respect
This doesn’t say liked, but respected. There is a difference. At its core is employees’ believe they can speak their ideas and be in action to achieve the best possible outcomes. And even when we don’t agree, or another idea trumps ours, we believe our opinion was respected, and valued.
Your Work Fits into the Big Picture
Busy work… sucks. Our contribution must make us feel like we are part of a team accomplishing a common goal. Anything less, and it just starts to feel like we’re in it for the paycheck… which while sometimes satisfying, is rarely meaningful.
A Sense of Independence AND Interdependence
Autonomy in completing one’s work has always been important; none of us like the feeling of being micro-managed. On the other hand, collaboration is vital in the 21st century. For work to be meaningful today, it must fuel our independence and our quench or thirst for collaborative work.
You Are Valued by the Organization and Management
To be viewed as a replaceable cog in the proverbial wheel is antiquated – and resented. Just like every other meaningful relationship in our lives, we must feel valued for our insight, productivity and contribution.
The Opportunity to Grow
Let’s look back to Max De Pree’s words. For work to be meaningful, there must be a maturing nature of work. Such an evolving awareness of the nature of work is best met by an evolving, deepening awareness of our self – and our capabilities. Mentorship, coaching, feedback and awareness of our performance and potential – and performance versus potential – are vital.
Promotion of Other’s Work
Immanuel Kant, philosopher, placed our ability to be concerned for other’s wellbeing and humanity as important to meaningful work. We want to be proud of our teammates; we want to work with people that make us better. And within that team, we want to flourish.
You Are Recognized for Good Work
For work to be meaningful, our efforts must be consistently recognized in a way that matters to us. We want to know that others notice our work, especially when we’ve gone above and beyond what was expected. To some, that may mean a sly pat on the back accompanied by a quiet “Well done.” For others, the recognition must be bigger and louder. In whatever form it comes, recognition must be a constant, or we will lose our passion for exceeding expectations.
Maybe compared to how others see their “dream job – these thoughts may be radical; perhaps even perceived as akin to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Then again, for some, that dream job is as vague as “I wanna’ work for Google some day!”
You know better. You know that any dream job, first and foremost, is built on a foundation of meaningful work. And that is where your sights are set. And that is how you will build a great – and meaningful – career.
About the Author: Shawn Murphy is a writer, and the owner and principal consultant at Achieved Strategies, as well as a co-founder of Switch and Shift. He passionately explores the space where business and humanity intersect. As a promoter of workplace optimism, Shawn believes work can be a source of joy. He is top-ranked on Huffington Post and HR Examiner. Follow Shawn on Twitter!