5 Ways to Make Your Career More Meaningful

5 Ways to Make Your Career More Meaningful
Social entrepreneur, speaker and author Derek Handley explains the truth about putting wellbeing and purpose first.

“What people truly care about is to express and live out who they are,” Derek Handley told crowds at the Southern Cross Health Society’s Wellbeing Now Conference.

Handley, the New Zealand social entrepreneur, speaker and author who co-founded The B Team and is a Sir Peter Blake Trust Leader – among other things – stressed the importance of purpose and why you should prioritise your own, unique goals.

In order to be a happier, more fulfilled person, your purpose must align with your working life, Handley says. To make your career more meaningful, follow these five steps:

Define your values: “What really do you believe you’re here to do, in life?” Handley asks. You must question what is most important to you, whether it is money, happiness, vision or otherwise. Only when you “bring your whole self to work [can] you lead with purpose,” he says, pointing out that “what people think will make them happy or give them meaning is often not the case.” As a starting point, Handley recommends writing down a few words that are important to you and detailing why. While the writing process helps clarify intention, reflecting on what you have written every few months is just as important because purpose “evolves and grows as you grow.” Handley recommends keeping your values on the wall or in an accessible notebook so you are constantly reminded of them.

Assess how you really feel: gauge the current state of your wellbeing by assessing your personal values. Should you be in this place you are right now, or should you be doing something entirely different with your life? Does your current position reflect and enhance your values? Handley encourages people to ask “is it a job or a purpose?” Are you there because the job pays the bills, or do you genuinely care about your role? Do you feel valued as a person, or simply as an employee? It is difficult to find meaning in your career if your values are ignored, Handley reiterates. “Your employer should be interested in your goals and interested in helping you get there.”

Measure your stress levels: how do you feel at work? Are managing your workload? Do you feel like you are making a difference? Do you feel like you have agency? Do you feel appreciated? Does your work bother you during your personal time? Do you feel like you can discuss your situation with management openly? Handley refers to Silicon Valley, where work conditions were changed to benefit the staff and enhance workplace wellness. However, he cautions that while these changes may have improved the experience for employees, it ultimately could not change their values.

Reassess your work rituals: Handley says creating work rituals generates meaning in your working life. Consider how you arrive and leave work each day. Do you feel energised and fresh when you enter and exit the building? Do you make sure you have a tea or lunch break each day? In particularly busy roles it’s easy to get consumed by work and neglect to even leave the workplace for an entire eight or nine hours. Creating rituals that you follow day in and day out will promote happiness and relieve stress. What those rituals are depends entirely on you – it could be going to the gym every Tuesday and Thursday, having a coffee at 10am each morning or taking a walk around the block in the middle of the day.

Determine your own path: consider who is really controlling your direction, Handley advises. “Are we on our own path, or the one carved out by society, or carved out by our parents?” If your path is being determined by someone or something else, your values will not be realised – and this is essential in order to “to live fully, now,” Handley maintains. Ask yourself if you will you look back one day and wonder why you didn’t take charge of your own life. Then ask yourself how you can manifest your values and begin to define your path. The main thing to remember is to commit to your purpose.  “When it comes to purpose, it’s all or nothing. It’s either everybody’s or nobody’s. Its truth and honesty.”


Derek Handley, photographed in 2017





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