The 5 pillars of fulfilling work, and how to identify it for yourself

December 15th, 20143 min read
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The opportunities of modern work are both limitless and limiting. We’re all encouraged to pursue a kaleidoscope of careers, but the choice is often overwhelming. The question of what makes work fulfilling is difficult to answer, and varies person by person. As a mission-driven company, we’re often thinking about the impact of our work, so it’s no surprise that many of us have spent time asking ourselves: what do we value in our work?

One way to explore what fulfilling work means to you is to look at it through the lens of 5 factors and how much each one matters to you:

  1. Money

  2. Status and respect

  3. Opportunity to change the world

  4. The pursuit of passion

  5. Leveraging unique talent

To figure out what type of work you’ll find fulfilling, ask yourself some key questions in each of the following sections. Going through this exercise may help you gain clarity into your own motivations and aspirations, and ultimately, point you in the direction of fulfilling work.

Finding fulfilling work requires an active pursuit, not just an acceptance of a self-imposed prophecy.

Money Money Money

Money can be a worthwhile factor when deciding what fulfilling work means to you, but it’s important to understand how and where money plays into your life. One trend that’s increasingly plaguing the modern knowledge worker is the desire to translate money into a more meaningful existence, as suggested by philosopher Roman Krznaric in his book, How to Find Fulfilling Work.

So what role does money play in your quest to find fulfilling work? To the extent that money is a means to an end, you may ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What amount of money do I need to live within my means?

  2. What are the most important things money can buy for me?

  3. What do I hope to save for?

The answer to whether money is directly tied to how much fulfillment you have in your work, could also lie in what you’re hoping to accomplish with that money.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Whether you work for a large team, a small team, or for yourself, you strive to do good work that will be recognized by others. This affirmation makes you want to do better. Sure, you might set your sights on climbing the corporate ladder, or becoming someone’s manager, but at the end of the day, these transitions and accomplishments are made worthwhile by the respect you get from those around you: your teammates. But how much respect is enough for you? Do you need constant affirmation? A title?

When thinking about your ideal type of work, ask yourself:

  1. Whose opinions matter to me?

  2. Whose opinion matters most to me?

  3. In a dream world, who would I work for? Who would I want to play on my team?

  4. How much of my value do I attribute to my status?

Depending on how you’ve answered these questions, you may find that your dream job is one where you have no boss, or where you don’t have a title and work with a small team.

Beyond rhetoric: finding your mantra

There are two ways of looking at meaningful work: the work you view as meaningful, and the work others have deemed meaningful. For some, meaningful work is the sort that creates a fundamental change in the way things were done before — the sort that ‘moves the needle’ in the world.

Whether it be to alleviate the pains for existing systems and form new ones, to break down barriers, solve problems that will help end wars and save lives, or make incremental changes to the foundation of a bigger picture issue. But for others, meaningful work is the sort that makes you feel good about coming into the office, interacting with teammates, and just being honest. Regardless of where you land, how you define ‘meaning’ is important in understanding whether you’ll find your work fulfilling.

When trying to define your meaningful work, ask yourself:

  1. What change do I want to see in the world?

  2. What makes something meaningful to me?

  3. Do I need to see an immediate result from my work, or am I happy knowing I am contributing to a long-term goal?

  4. What makes me feel happiest about my work? When do I feel most accomplished?

Two roads diverged in a wood

Passions can be felt on an individual and team level. You might have a passion and then find others who share your passions; the work you pursue — the sum of these passions — can become your mission. Passion is subjective: you may be passionate about video games, or statistics.

Perhaps your passion lies in helping those around you discover their strengths (emotional and physical), or encouraging more people to travel and discover new cultures. Whatever these passions are, tapping into them and understanding how they align with the work you may want to pursue is a valuable exercise.

Ask yourself these questions to help you get a better understanding of where your passions lie and how they may play into your ideal role:

  1. I will stay up late for ______________

  2. A topic that really gets my blood boiling is _____________

  3. I would fight for ______________

Tapping into individual talent

There is no hard and fast rule that the work you pursue is work you know you’ll be good at. But it helps if your individual talents somehow relate to your chosen line of work. If you’re able to devote your energy toward something you’re inclined to be good at, you’ll likely find yourself more fulfilled at the end of each day.

So, how do you determine what you’re good at (or may be inclined to be good at)? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What type of work or activities have you always gravitated towards?

  2. I have a natural talent for ___________

  3. How would the people closest to me describe me and my greatest strengths?

Finding fulfilling work requires an active pursuit, not just an acceptance of a self-imposed prophecy.

This article was inspired by Maria Popova’s analysis of the philosopher Roman Krznaric’s book titled How to Find Fulfilling Work.

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