Want Work That Brings You Meaning? Ask These 5 Questions.

June 4, 2023

Want Work That Brings You Meaning? Ask These 5 Questions.

May 29, 2023

A central premise of the wonderful Modern Elder Academy (MEA) community is that those of us who’ve lived for a while have wisdom to share and experience to spread with others. By learning from one another, we can make the world a better place.

Ever since publishing my last book, Life Is in the Transitions, I’ve been grateful to be welcomed into this community by Chip Conley and the many generous community members I’ve heard from around the world.

But as wise as that central premise is, I’ve also learned that those of us of a certain age have something to learn from those younger than us. They have placed meaning at the heart of their work lives—something we often pushed off for far too long.

The numbers around work today tell a staggering story: 70% of us are unhappy with what we do; three-quarters of us plan to look for new work this year. That means 100 million Americans will sit down with someone they love this week and say, “I’m not happy with what I’m doing and want to do work that makes me happy.”

But young people answer that question differently. Gallup has found that millennials and Gen Z, who now make up half the workforce, place their highest emphasis on work that values their wellbeing. Deloitte polled the same group and found that their #1 priority was good work/life balance. Yet another survey found that six in ten millennials believe meaningful work is more important to them than their parents.

Elders of the world, listen up! The youth can teach us a thing or two about finding work with meaning.

I’ve spent the last six years crisscrossing the United States collecting hundreds of stories of Americans of all walks of life and all 50 states, looking for clues that could help all of us find meaning in times of change. My new book, The Search: Finding Meaningful Work in a Post-Career World, extends this project to the arena of life that most needs it: work.

The Search is chock full of inspiring stories of Americans who’ve found work with freedom, flexibility, and purpose, and it introduces a toolkit to help everyone find the same. I call this toolkit 21 Questions to Find Work You Love. Answer these questions, and you can find work for whatever moment of life you’re in right now.

A central premise of the book is that we have to look beyond the three lies of work—you have a career, you have a path, you have a job (in fact, we have up to 5)—and embrace the one truth: only you can decide what brings you meaning. Only you can write your own work story.

Here are 5 questions you can ask right now to help you tell the story that’s right for your life today:

1. The most important person in my work choices right now is ________________?

    Part of the challenge of telling a work story is that we’re not the only people in those stories. We’re all shaped by the needs of others, from our parents to our children to our partners. Right now, whose voices are most prominent for you?

    Perhaps you’re choosing to spend more time with your family; commit more time to a volunteer organization; or focus on yourself for a while. The blessing of moving beyond the linear model of work—the corporate ladder, the never-ending escalator, the relentless climb to the top—is that you can change your decision at any point.

    2. At this moment in my life, I want to do work that ________________?

      What we want to do also changes over time. At one point we may value salary, while at another we may emphasize creativity, public service, or giving back. A central part of being happy at work is knowing what you want to do at this specific moment in your life.

      3. I want to work in a place where _______________?

        Place may be the part of work that’s been most upended by the pandemic. With the rise of remote work, two-thirds of Americans are renegotiating once unquestionable topics like how often they go into the office and whether they can live in more pleasant surroundings and give up soul-crushing commutes. What kind of work environment is more important to you at this time?

        4. My purpose right now is _______________?

          Your why is also not fixed. It shifts and adapts as you grow, learn, and get to know yourself better. What is your purpose right now—not 2 years ago, not 10 years ago, today?

          5. The best advice I have for myself right now is _______________?

            The final revelation of my conversations is that while all of us seek out advice when we’re going through a work transition, the best advice turns out to be “trust yourself.” Three-quarters of people told me that what they found most helpful was when people told them to listen to their gut. They didn’t want a kick in the rear; all they wanted was a pat on the back.

            Listening to your inner voice may be the most important lesson of all: In the new world of work, you don’t have to follow someone else’s dream; you can follow your own. Make yourself the hero of your own story.

            BRUCE FEILER is the author of seven New York Times bestsellers, including LIFE IS IN THE TRANSITIONS, THE SECRETS OF HAPPY FAMILIES, and COUNCIL OF DADS. His three TED Talks have been viewed more than four million times, and he teaches the TED Course HOW TO MASTER LIFE TRANSITIONS. His latest book, from which this piece is adapted, is THE SEARCH: Finding Meaningful Work in a Post-Career World.

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