Finding Meaningful Work Guide - Part 3 - Building a meaningful career

Rachel Smith ·

Your career is a constant work-in-progress, so it would be unrealistic – not to mention unsatisfying – to expect to achieve your life’s work in one fell swoop.

In fact, we’d argue that crafting a meaningful career is about the journey, not the destination. Here’s how to make it a journey worth taking.

Embrace uncertainty

You might have a clear picture of where you’d like to be in a year or two. But does the image grow hazy after that?

If so, don’t worry. How realistic is it really, to have your every career move mapped out before you’ve had a chance to experience the reality of those roles?

It’s inevitable that you will change during your lifetime. So will the world around you. Your interests and passions will shift; new technologies will come along to replace old ones. It’s vital, therefore, to keep your mind open and your career goals fluid.

By not getting too hung up on one specific ‘dream job’, you will improve your chances of a meaningful career.

Incremental steps

Having ambitious goals is important in order to ward off complacency. But we urge caution over becoming too fixated on one career path, or in thinking it’s only the dramatic goals and achievements that matter.

Getting too hung up on the big picture of your career can lead to analysis paralysis and stop you from taking that next important step.

Concentrating on making gradual (not monumental) shifts in your career will give you the opportunity to regularly reflect and recalibrate. You can gain fresh insight and allow yourself room for manoeuvre as you and your industry inevitably change and grow.

Remember: there’s nothing wrong with taking the scenic route. Who knows what unexpected and career-changing experiences you might encounter via a swift detour along the way?

In short, it could serve you well to think about career evolution, not revolution.

Make time for reflection

Thinking of your career as an evolution means regularly making time for reflection. This allows you to make frequent small adjustments and reduces the need for an enormous career overhaul several years down the line.

This could be as simple as asking yourself these questions on a monthly or quarterly basis:

  • What is the next small step I can take in my career?
  • Is there something I can change in my current role that will prepare me for this next step?
  • Is there a learning opportunity I can pursue that will prepare me for this next step?

You’ll probably find that these small steps soon add up – and you might be surprised at the progress you can make, even in a year.

Reflection is also about taking time to understand what really interests and motivates you. When you imagine your ‘dream job’ (or any role that seems attractive to you), it’s worth digging deeper to discover the qualities or pleasures that are so appealing to you. Is it the prestige of the position? The opportunity to express yourself creatively? The pleasure you get from bringing order to chaos?

Once you understand the qualities that resonate with you, you can think about other, more attainable roles that also contain these qualities.

Find work that encourages learning and growth

When you’re thinking about moving into your next role, it’s important to consider whether it offers opportunities for learning, achievement and growth.

Not all organisations place the same emphasis on career development, so when you join a new company it is worth investing time in asking yourself (or the hiring manager) these questions:

  • Will this role enable me to develop new skills? Gain mastery over existing ones?
  • Will I receive honest and regular constructive feedback on my work?
  • Is there evidence of people in the team or department being promoted?
  • Does this organisation encourage learning and offer opportunities to do so?

If you’re not sure where you want to go next in your career, becoming a wide achiever (gaining experience in multiple areas) instead of a high achiever (committing to specialising in one field) can help prepare you for future career shifts.

Build your network

The word ‘networking’ may strike fear in some people’s hearts, conjuring up images of brash individuals attempting (badly) to work a crowd. But if you reframe networking as a two-way search for help, you can’t deny its benefits.

Networking doesn’t need to take place in-person if that isn’t your preferred style (or if it poses a geographical challenge). It can take other guises, such as online communities or email introductions.

By broadening your network, you’ll gain a greater insight into your industry and the opportunities within it, as well as opening yourself up to new ideas and contacts who may be able to support you in your career.

There’s pleasure to be found in helping others, too. Giving back to others can be a powerful way to boost happiness. As you grow in experience and mastery , your insight might be just what someone needs to take the next crucial step in their own career.