In our careers, it’s normal to crave more—more recognition, more responsibility, or more money and benefits. Many people also crave more meaning from their jobs, especially if they feel like they’re stuck in a rut or that their company doesn’t value the same things they do. If you feel like the work you’re doing isn’t meaningful, take some steps to make a change. While making big career changes can feel daunting, there are ways to make small changes along the way, easing an eventual transition to work that feels important to you.
1. Identify your own values and goals.
You already know that your current job feels like it lacks meaning or importance. But can you pinpoint why? Make a pros and cons list to analyze what exactly isn’t working for you. Is it the workplace environment? Is it the values associated with the industry itself? Is it your role or your responsibilities? Once you’ve taken note of what you like and dislike, make a second list. This time, write down the ideals and values associated with your perfect job and workplace. Compare the two lists, identifying any areas of overlap. Maybe your company is doing good work, but your job feels unfulfilling or boring. Or maybe it’s the opposite: your values and your industry are at odds with each other. Whatever you discover, taking the time to write down your thoughts can help you get clear on how much distance you need from your job.
Volunteering for an organization that models your values can be extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally. While it can be hard to find the time to volunteer, realize that you don’t have to dedicate a huge amount of time to reap the benefits. Whether you can do weekly, monthly, or just occasionally, you may find that a small commitment to meaningful work helps you feel happier in your career overall, especially if you are already relatively satisfied. Or, you may find that it helps you realize your desire to make a big career pivot. If that’s the case, you can talk with your new connections in the organization about how they found jobs that bring them meaning. They may have even been in your position before.
3. Develop new skills or sharpen existing ones
As you’re considering a job or career change, think about ways you can continue to develop your skills or sharpen existing ones. Whether it’s jumping at the chance to learn a new software in your current job, or taking a weekend seminar on fundraising or social media, adding to your skill set will only help once you’re ready to transition to a new role. While your dream career doesn’t necessarily take place in the world of nonprofits, startups, or entrepreneurship, many people who seek meaningful work gravitate to these kind of opportunities, and being proficient in a wide set of skills can give you an edge. Of course, you don’t need to be good at everything, and it’s up to you to define what new skills or tools you would enjoy developing and using.
4. Job search with intention
Depending on how unhappy you are in your current job, you may feel ready to get out. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should start applying to jobs with abandon. You want to find work that’s more meaningful, and that requires you to look hard at companies and workplaces. If you know like-minded people who love their jobs, talk to them about how they navigated the job search process. Think hard about what you can give to a job and what you want in return. If you’re coming up empty as you search for leads, consider whether it’s because no one is doing it yet. If you’ve got a big idea and a passion for it, maybe entrepreneurship is right for you. While you may not have considered it as a possibility before, working on your own terms is the perfect way to prioritize and focus on work that you believe in.
5. Take the plunge.
When you’re ready to apply to jobs or dive into entrepreneurship, don’t go it alone. As a coach, I work with clients all the time who are initially intimidated by the grueling process of switching careers. This feeling is completely normal, but I promise that it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, people are often surprised by how fun and exciting it can be to make these big changes. And why shouldn’t it be? You’re leaving behind an unfulfilling career for one that lights you up. Whether you work with a coach or rely on a network of friends, family, and former colleagues, you’ll find people that are ready to support you on your personal path to professional success.