Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Finding Meaning in Your Future Career

As a Career Services professional, I often hear students say to me, “I don’t know what I want to do, but I want to make a difference, and have a sense of purpose in whatever it is.” Students seem to know not what position or title they seek, but rather what emotional response they want to receive from that position. As an employee of a university whose mission incorporates fulfilling and discerning one’s vocation and life call, I’m supportive of students’ desire to do something significant after college. The difficult part lies in how to go about finding a meaningful career. Consider engaging in the following:

1.  Take some serious time to reflect on your values and strengths. If you haven’t spent significant amount of time truly thinking about what your strengths are, and what they value in life, finding meaning in a career will be difficult. If you don’t know where to start, try taking a values, interest, or strengths assessment, ask someone who knows you best, or look around you to see what causes or issues awaken your passion. Some of the assessments our campus uses for this purpose include StrengthsFinder by Tom Rath or the tool, which assesses your interests and suggests potential career matches for you. If you can articulate what you value and what your strengths and talents are, you can have a better idea of how you might maximize those to make a difference in any industry or field.

2.  Keep your options open. The worst mistake a new graduate can make is to assume there is one perfect job for them in the world, and to only focus on that one option. Most professionals who we see as successful probably have the most twisted, curved career paths of them all, because they were willing to consider opportunities that perhaps weren’t exactly what they thought they wanted. They took chances, said “yes” to opportunities that presented themselves, and learned from them. Your first job out of college won’t be your last. Be willing to take an opportunity, to change plans, to try something new. If after some time the opportunity is no longer a good fit, reflect on what you’ve learned from it, and move forward.

3. Recognize (and believe) that all people, and jobs, are important. This advice comes from a book I’ve read several times, The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn. In it, postman Fred shares with readers four principles he uses to approach his career as a mail carrier.  One of his principles is that all people, and positions, are valuable. A quote spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. reiterates this point well: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” If you can take pride in what you do, and truly believe and see that you are impacting a person, an organization, or a mission in a positive way, you create meaning for yourself no matter the position or job title. 

4.  Find a mentor. Sometimes, it is the people we surround ourselves with that help us truly unleash our potential and innermost desires. If you don’t have a mentor right now, start thinking about who in your life (or who you might want to seek out) you look up to, potentially within your career field. Build a relationship with someone who can provide you advice, has a career background similar to the one you want for yourself, and really get to know what helped them find meaning and purpose in their own unique experience. Mentors can also help be an external motivator to be successful, set and reach new goals, or unlock potential career paths that we would never have considered on our own.

5.  Think about life outside your career. I personally believe that if anyone tells you they love their job 100% of the time, they aren’t being honest with you (or themselves!). No matter how great a career, there will be aspects that don’t feel fulfilling, that don’t feel important, that don’t feel purposeful at all times. Rather than focus on that small percentage of time and tasks, reflect on where else you find fulfillment and enjoyment. Yes, your career is a big part of the next 40+ years of your life, but there are other activities and opportunities outside your career that can perhaps bring you the joy and satisfaction that you are looking for. Find a cause to volunteer for; learn a new skill; set a goal and find a friend to accomplish it with you.

Satisfaction and meaning will come if you truly want it and seek it. You’ll find some within your career, you’ll find some in other aspects of your life. Reflection, an open mind, and relationships can help lead you down a path of a fulfilling and satisfying career.

Written by:  Anne Funke, University of Dubuque 
Assistant Director of Vocation & Civic Engagement  

Edited by:  Sarah Moss, Dordt College
Career Development Coordinator