Meaningful Work: How It Can Lead To Passion

Often a great way to find your passion is to begin by first seeking meaningful work.

When you’re confused about your passion, and you don’t know what excites you or fills you with enthusiasm to jump out of bed in the morning, you can lead yourself to work you love by doing something that deeply moves or inspires you. Ultimately, doing something that is meaningful AND that you feel passionate about is the optimal goal. It is the recipe for a fulfilling life.

How does meaningful work lead you to your life passion? Because the feelings meaningful work affords are often more substantial and powerful than the pleasure of more ego-driven passion pursuits. These feelings drive us to engage more fully, to explore the depths of our experience, until we are lost in passion — and our meaningful work becomes the work “we can’t not do.”

Meaningful work doesn’t necessarily have to be your day job, although that’s the ideal scenario since you spend so much time there. But you can also pursue meaningful work outside of your day job through volunteer work or side gigs. In fact, sometimes this is the best way to start so you can get a feel for the work and how powerful it is for you. It helps you prioritize your life goals and values, and as I mentioned, it can lead you to your life passion.

So how do you decide what is meaningful? From a general perspective, meaningful work is a pursuit that may do one or more of the following:

[ul style=”4″] [li]serves or helps other people [/li] [li]inspires others to a higher call[/li] [li]supports or furthers a cause[/li] [li]betters a community, organization, city, or the world [/li] [li]prevents harm to people, animals, or nature [/li] [li]provides comfort or relief[/li] [li]raises money or awareness[/li] [li]teaches individuals or groups [/li] [li]supports and furthers the arts, history, and culture[/li] [li]supports or funds a political movement or campaign [/li] [li]contributes time, talents, or funds to a religious or spiritual community or goal [/li] [/ul] [spacer height=”20″ mobile_hide=”true”]

[blockQuote position=”left”]From a personal, individual perspective, meaningful work is a pursuit that moves you, that makes you feel you’re part of something larger than yourself.[/blockQuote]


But from a personal, individual perspective, meaningful work is a pursuit that moves you, that makes you feel you’re part of something larger than yourself.

It’s work that fulfills you on a soul level and provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

We don’t tend to find ourselves in a meaningful job or volunteer pursuit by accident.

We must intentionally find what is meaningful to us and then seek out an equivalent need in the world.

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Finding the feelings of meaning

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A good way to begin a search for meaningful work or a meaningful job is by paying attention to your feelings. It is the emotions we experience in a pursuit or career that makes it tolerable or intolerable; passionate or boring; energizing or draining; meaningful or mundane.

We deeply desire feelings of contentment, joy, excitement, achievement, gratification, usefulness, love, aliveness, awe, beauty, creativity, gratitude, self-respect, significance, worthiness, and transcendence. These are some of the feelings meaningful work provides.

Let’s work backward from your most valued feelings to see where you might find meaningful work. Take a look at this list of value words.  As you go through the list, notice words that resonate with you as feelings or states of mind you would like to achieve through meaningful work. Write down those words and try to group them in order of importance.

When I did this exercise for myself, the words that I chose were (in alphabetical order):

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If you go through my list, you’ll see many of the words relate. So taking these words, I was able to prioritize them in bundles of meaning for me.

#1: love, passion, joy, optimism, aliveness, enthusiasm, creativity

#2: usefulness, substantiality, belongingness

#3: presence, care, compassion, inspiration, guidance

#4: accomplishment, expertise, leadership, self-reliance, facilitating

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I have found meaningful and passionate work as a coach, personal development writer, teacher, and entrepreneur. The most important feelings that my work provides are love (passion), aliveness (joy, enthusiasm), and creativity.

Next I find meaning in being useful and belonging. Then in being present by caring, guiding, and inspiring. And finally in feeling accomplished through expertise, leadership, and self-reliance. In short, I want to feel love. I want to feel useful. I want to feel present. I want to feel accomplished. That is meaningful work for me.

Another important question you can ask yourself in seeking meaningful work is this:

“What makes me angry, frustrated, sad, frightened, indignant, or disappointed? What is happening in my community or somewhere in the world that shouldn’t be happening, and what do I have to offer than can make a difference or improve the situation?”

You’ll likely see that your negative feelings relate back to one of those feeling/value words you defined earlier. If you’re angry that trees are being cut down at alarming rates, this may touch on the desire to feel beauty. If you’re frustrated at a politician, this may relate to your longing for freedom or security.

It’s valuable to identify these negative feelings, notice how strong they are,  pinpoint what deep desires they relate to, and determine how you might use them to create meaningful work.

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Pursuing meaningful work

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Once you’ve found what moves you emotionally, both positively and negatively, the next step is uncovering where you can apply your skills and talents to foster those emotions.

A good place to begin is identifying all of your skills and talents. What are you able to do both professionally and in your personal life? Be sure you include skills you might take for granted, like being a good listener, having self-discipline, or having a calm demeanor. All of these skills can provide value in specific settings.

After you list those skills, think about where those skills would be useful. Simply brainstorm all of the careers, pursuits, or volunteer opportunities where your various skills might be desirable or useful. Don’t place any judgements on this list yet. Simply collect the data. This might take a bit of research online to match skills with opportunities. But work on this until you exhaust all ideas.

Once you have a list of all of your skills and the possible job or volunteer opportunities, compare each of those opportunities to your list of desirable emotions you want from meaningful work.

Ask yourself, “Do I think this opportunity could afford me these feelings?” Of course you can’t know for sure until you really engage with the opportunity. But you likely have an inkling about which opportunities have the most potential for providing those meaningful feelings. Narrow your list down to your top 3-4 possibilities.

[ul style=”17″] [li]Begin researching and exploring these possibilities more intently. [/li] [li]Find people who are currently pursuing them or working in the field and ask questions.[/li] [li]Learn more about the daily responsibilities and how you’d be spending most of your time.[/li] [li]Shadow someone who is doing what you’re considering.[/li] [li]Begin as a volunteer or intern, or pursue something part-time or as a consultant until  you  see if the work connects with you on a profound and fulfilling level. [/li] [/ul] [spacer height=”20″ mobile_hide=”true”]

Even if the work is not where you see yourself, or it doesn’t pay what you think you deserve, or it doesn’t have the prestige or security of your current job, you may discover the compelling and soul-satisfying nature of the work morphs into a real passion.

When you combine meaning and passion, you create a combustible force that can explode into a new and exciting life you never previously imagined. Old values, priorities, and goals fall away as you experience the transformative power of living and working authentically, doing what you love, and connecting with something larger than yourself.

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What has been your personal experience with meaningful work? Have you found it’s led you to your passion? What practical difficulties have you experience and how did you overcome them? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Photo courtesy of birth photographer Tammy Williams.