Ever wondered what it is that makes one role feel meaningful and another meaningless? What is meaning, anyway? Is it possible to identify and define something so subjective?

In this series, we’ll be looking at what makes work meaningful, and sharing practical tips for building a meaningful career.

So – whether you’re searching for meaning in your current role, or wondering how to make your next meaningful career move, we’ve got you covered.

Meaning vs. happiness

You might be wondering why we’re focusing on meaningful work instead of happiness at work. It’s a great question – and one we couldn’t possibly put better than Viktor Frankl in his thought-provoking book, Man’s Search for Meaning:

Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself. ... Happiness must happen ... you have to let it happen by not caring about it.

Frankl suggests that the pursuit of happiness is misguided – that it’s a by-product of our search for meaning, not a goal in itself.

But how can we search for meaning if we aren’t sure what it is?

Solving the meaning puzzle

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, meaning is defined as:

The quality or sense of purpose that makes you feel that your life is valuable

So, if that’s what meaning is, how can we apply that definition to our work? Is a sense of purpose all that’s needed to make a role feel meaningful? Somehow, we don’t think so. What else is at play here?

A typical employee will spend 3,500 full days at work in their lifetime. To put that in perspective, if you work for 50 years, you’ll spend around 20% of that time working.

It’s no surprise, then, that meaningful work has been the subject of many studies over the past few decades. Of those studies, a clear theme emerges. A sense of purpose is only one part of the meaning puzzle.

The other parts? Coherence and worth.

Let’s see how the three pieces of the puzzle slot together.

Coherence – making sense of your experiences

Coherence is the extent to which your experiences make sense to you.

By noticing the patterns in our day-to-day experiences, we can create broader models of pattern and predictability. This gives us a better sense of who we are and our place in the bigger picture.

Without coherence, your work will feel incomprehensible.

Purpose – having goals and direction

Purpose means having a sense of your core goals, aims and direction.

It’s about being motivated to take positive action on matters that are important to us. Having a clear sense of our overarching goal(s) makes our day-to-day actions feel more significant.

Without purpose, your work will feel aimless.

Worth – recognising value and significance

Worth is about being able to recognise the value and significance of your work. For example, through the difference it makes to those around you, or the planet and its species.

Without worth, your work will feel insignificant.

If we slot these three pieces into place, a picture emerges of a meaningful role:

A meaningful role is a purpose-driven job that aligns with one’s own goals and values while contributing to a worthwhile greater cause.

Putting it into practice

Coherence in practice

Our day-to-day experiences of trying to connect with meaningful roles helped us to identify patterns – a cycle of manually searching for jobs, dealing with recruiters, researching companies, filling in application forms, waiting to hear back (sometimes in vain), and so on.

Purpose in practice

Understanding this context is what shaped our purpose: to make it simpler for the best minds in technology to connect with the most exciting and challenging technical opportunities in the world.

Worth in practice

Our purpose isn’t only worthwhile for us – it has a broader value. We get to help developers find meaningful, well-paid roles. We remove barriers that hinder hiring companies from connecting with top talent. And our work benefits the planet, too – we get to spotlight the organisations that are stepping up to solve the world’s biggest problems (Companies Saving the World).

Pretty meaningful, we hope you’ll agree.

So – when you visualise the meaning puzzle for your current role, do you see the whole picture, or is there a piece or two missing? Either way, don’t worry: next time, we’ll be covering what you can do to make your current work more meaningful.

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