Changing careers
5 min. read

How to build a meaningful career

Will this be the year that you finally launch yourself on the path to a meaningful career? Easy to commit to, but much harder to actually do, right?

If you’re ready to change the world – or just make it a little better than it is now – but you’re not sure where to start, here are four essential things to consider to work out what your dream ethical job should look like:

1) Legacy

We rarely get to do exactly what we love all of the time – but what do you want to leave behind after you finish working in an organisation or field?

Perhaps you want to know that you helped people in a remote part of Sierra Leone access clean water or essential health care. Or that you changed the life of a person living with a disability. Or that you helped support an organisation working to cure cancer or stop dangerous climate change.

Ask yourself:

  • Who do I want to work for – the world at large? A particular group? Me? My local community? My family?
  • What concrete changes or accomplishments do I want to see in the world? How wide-reaching do I want this to be?
  • When will this be recognised, if ever? Is public recognition important, or am I happy to simply know myself that I’ve contributed to long term progress?

Complete the sentence – “When I leave this job/organisation, I want to have . . .”

2) Mastery

There are few things as satisfying as becoming really good at something. So what do you want to be really good at in your work?

Ask yourself:

  • What gives me that feeling of ‘flow’, of enjoyment in the moment, when time seems to fly past?
  • How do my current skills and interests relate back to my work – how could they apply to a job?
  • What sort of position would allow me to improve on a current skill?
  • What new skills would I like to learn and work with?
  • What skills would help me achieve the legacy I want to leave?

Complete the sentence – “My work will involve me becoming great at . . . “

3) Freedom

Some people think of freedom as being free from coercion or the demands of others. Some think of freedom as having the ability and means to do what they want to. In the end, everyone feels free in a different way.

Is it important that your work gives you the money to have freedom when you’re not working? Or is it more important that work is flexible so you have the freedom to work at the times and places that suit you? Or is the freedom within your work most important – the freedom to explore new ideas and learn, to travel to new places, or to surprise yourself?

Ask yourself:

  • What makes me feel most free and at peace with myself?
  • Would I rather have more time to myself and less money to spend, or vice versa? What is my ideal work/life balance?
  • How important is flexibility in my work?
  • What would my (realistic) ideal day look like?

Complete the sentence – “In order to feel a sense of freedom from my work, I need . . . “

4) Alignment

At work, do you feel like a duck out of water, or one of the gang? Do you generally agree with the sentiments you hear from colleagues, or do they alienate you and make you feel alone? What about the values of your organisation – are you proud to be associated with them?

Alignment is when you feel like you belong in a place, when the values, beliefs and culture of your workplace match with your own values, culture and beliefs.

It’s rare to find a perfect situation in which you feel in total alignment with your work and your colleagues, but some alignment is important in any ethical job.

Ask yourself:

  • What jobs have a I worked in where I felt a good alignment with colleagues and the organisation? What made me feel like this?
  • What are my values and beliefs? What’s truly important to me?
  • What sort of colleagues would I ideally like to work with? What sort of values would they have?
  • What sort of organisation could I work in that would reflect my values?

Complete the sentence – “I want to work with people and an organisation that holds these values . . .  “

Finally . . .

These are long-term ideas to consider, rather than short-term demands.

You probably won’t tick all the boxes in your next role – or perhaps in any role. No organisation is perfect after all!

But your work should be taking you at least a little closer to your ideal destination – or else you should be re-evaluating your next step.

Where will you end up? The choices you make today – or neglect to make – will determine your future.

This post is based on post from Harvard Business Review, written by Amy Gallo, with contributions from Nathaniel Koloc, former CEO of Rework. Image: Michael.