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How should you go about finding the work that matters to you?

Get a vocation that brings meaning

Whether you’re an employee or starting your own business, choose a vocation that brings meaning to your life.

I’m lucky. I’ve always known what kind of work I wanted to do.

Fortunately, I didn’t spend my adolescence going through the gruelling choices about what profession I wanted to pursue. During high school, I didn’t find maths interesting enough to get the grades that would get me into (any) higher educational institution, and that didn’t matter, because I was already making money being an illustrator and producing comics and cartoons. Maybe you weren’t as lucky as me in knowing what you were going to do. People have to make career choices even though they have little idea about what it actually entails. A lucky few are confident about the direction they want to take, but most don’t know what profession will make them happy. More often than not, their vocation is not their passion.

Few have a passion for their work

In 2013, a Gallup study found that only 13% of workers feel a sense of passion for their work. A staggering 87% of professionals don’t feel engaged with what they spend 40 to 60 hours doing every week. Is work just something you do to attain a certain standard of living?

87% of professionals don’t feel engaged with their work

A few wise people have realised that work, which encompasses your passion, is one of the most profound things in life. Leonardo da Vinci had a passion for everything he did, and that may have been the reason that he did everything well. It’s a trade-off; approximately 2,000hours of work every year for half a century, to be able to raise a family, live a comfortable life and have a reasonable time as a pensioner – is it worth it? One hundred thousand hours of work might be experienced differently if you were doing something that made your juices flow.

I want to do something that’s fulfilling

The meaning you find isn’t linked to riches or status. At some point in our lives, we do something that’s a challenge, but that we somehow master. These types of experiences are called flow. You should have the freedom to decide how to do your work. In his book "How to find fulfilling work," Roman Krznaricin suggests that in order to have work that makes you feel as if you’re using your talent, and which is on a trajectory towards something that you’re interested in, your work life should contain three things: 1. It should give you meaning, 2. You should be able to experience flow from your job, and 3. The job should make you feel free. Many people do poorly paid, meaningless work that is demeaning, while others get lucky and have well-paid work that gives them status, but are still unhappy because of the heavy workload.

The pressure to conform

During adolescence, we’re subject to enormous social pressures from both our parents and friends, who each want to influence us, and whose actions and attitudes have an impact on our choices. Caught between these conflicting forces, it takes a strong mind to be able to pursue a job that feels meaningful to you. You might end up with work that seems to give you a reasonably high quality of living. Paradoxically, work feels meaningless, without challenges, and deprives you of the freedom to be autonomous. This way of life becomes so normal, that most of us just clench our jaws and move on. It’s now so common for people to struggle both physically and mentally during a normal life that many individuals just take it as a given. Two to four hours of commute, 60- to 80-hour weeks, work that invades your spare time and impossible deadlines cause a lot of professionals to suffer from anxiety and stress-related symptoms.

Act first, decide later

How should you go about finding the work that matters to you, that challenges you, and that makes you feel free? The best advice is to experience different kinds of jobs. You can do this by asking professionals in attractive jobs if you could be an intern for a period. By experiencing both the boring and the thrilling parts of a job, you will get a much keener sense of what fits you and 'feels' right.

People are changing their attitude towards work

Another tactic is to interview people who were in a position like yours, and who have made a transition into something more appealing. They’ll be able to share how they dealt with doubts, social pressure, and the practical stuff. Lastly, you can gradually move into a different career by starting it as a temporary assignment. Start to practise your new career, while retaining your current position. If the new role appeals, sort out the practical stuff along the way.

Changing attitudes towards work

We’re entering an era where a lot of people are changing their attitude towards work. While some are experiencing work life as a means to putting food on the table and paying the bills, others experience work as something all encompassing. Labour is losing its value, by not providing meaning, and not providing a means for a living. The decreasing value of workers is due to globalisation, automation, and a financial system that favours capital, instead of labour. Starting and running a business, maybe at the same time as holding a job, might be the safest – and most rewarding – solution for the future. Happy people are the ones whose life and work are intermingled, Meaningful work that put us in a state of flow and gives us freedom is one of the most important things for a human being. Can we manage to choose a career that makes us fulfilled?
Christian Leborg

Christian Leborg

Christian Leborg is a visual communicator and branding consultant. He specialises in building brand strategies and brand identities. Christian has worked with several specializations within visual communication as well as teaching and being an author. Christian now works on his third stint as an entrepreneur.