There’s a widespread misconception that the only way to start loving your life, is to quit your day job, move to Thailand, and start your own business from a beachside villa. While this surely makes for sweet pic on Instagram, the truth is that finding fulfilling work may involve starting your own venture, but it can also mean sharing your gifts by working for another organization, whether it’s a large company, or a tiny start-up.
In The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, I tell the stories of numerous meaning-hungry millennials who actually found they were happier when they quit being a solopreneur (someone working for themselves), and became an intrapreneur (someone working in a large company with a team). A recent Gallup report revealed that 21% of millennials have switched jobs within the past year, three times the number of non-millennials, and only 29% of millennials are engaged with their jobs, making them the least engaged generation in the workplace.
If millions of Americans are disengaged at their jobs, then clearly we need to make it easier for people to experience meaning, purpose and joy in the workplace. Here are six ways motivated employees of all generations can pursue meaning within their current job.
1. Know your why.
These days, it’s not enough just to have a job; you need to know how the position fits into your larger purpose. What do you care most about? Why are you here? How does your position relate to your personal mission? If you take the time to answer these questions on your own, it will be easier for you ensure you’re spending your days working on as many projects that interest you as possible, and you might even discover where you want to take your career in the future.
2. Don’t let your job title limit your hustle.
A lot of twenty-somethings think they have to be miserable at their jobs, just because they don’t have a fancy job title or a large salary. In my book, I tell the story of one twenty-something, Amira Polack, who was working as a corporate social responsibility specialist at SAP, a large software company with offices in 130 countries. She was really interested in youth engagement issues, and told her supervisor that she wanted to spend more time focusing on youth.
Eventually, she became the head of the SAP Youth Campaign, which meant she coordinated a thirteen-person team, coordinated Twitter chats, got to meet CEOs of global companies and build partnerships with organizations like TEDxTeen and Africa Code Week. All because, when the challenge presented itself, Amira jumped on it, even if she had to learn new responsibilities on the job.
Be creative, challenge yourself to pursue new opportunities, step up when the opportunity presents itself, and think beyond your pay grade.
3. Invest in your skills.
Research by Daniel H. Pink, bestselling author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, has shown that mastery is one of our top motivations in the workplace (and in life). When’s the last time you read about a symphony conductor, or the chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant, or an Oscar-nominated actor, who didn’t love their job? So, how can you become a master at what you do? Remember: skills are why people get hired, and why people get promoted. Being really good at specific skills, whether it’s writing, marketing, coding, design thinking, facilitation, human resources, data analysis, etc., will help you find more happiness at work, and in the rest of your life.
4. Seek co-leadership opportunities.
Whenever I speak to HR departments about how to empower millennial talent, I stress the importance of creating a collaborative relationship between early talent and more experienced talent. One way to do this is to pair younger employees with colleagues that have five to ten (or more) years of experience, to co-manage projects that are of top value to C-level executives. The assumption being that we millennials have a lot to learn from Gen-Xers and Boomers, and we also have something to teach them. Everyone wins when companies create structures that promote knowledge sharing, frequent feedback loops, and the opportunity to treat the workplace like a classroom.
5. Keep your work fresh and focused.
Working from the same desk every day can get boring. Research suggests that employees who work remotely from home are more productive (and happier) than employees who have to commute every single day. Obviously, some jobs will require you to be present in an office and interact with a team, but ask your supervisor if you can work from home once a week.
Even if you can't work from home, switch up your routine when you’re bored. Be sure to take frequent breaks go outside, meditate, or exercise at the office. Renewal is a key factor in determining workplace engagement and productivity. Research by the Energy Project and Harvard Business Review showed that employees who take a break every ninety minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus, and that employees who were able to focus on only one task at time at work, are 50 percent more engaged.
6. Don’t wait for permission to find meaning in your current job.
If there’s a project that aligns with your purpose or something that gets you excited, do it. If there’s an initiative you want to be involved in, get involved. Don’t wait for an invitation to start loving your job, make it happen yourself. Be proactive and ask your boss. If your boss ignores you, ask someone else. If you wait for someone else to give you meaningful work, you’ll get so bored at the office you start spending six hours a day wasting time on Facebook, or worse, you’ll start using Tinder at the office.
Adapted from The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work, and Build a Life That Matters by Adam "Smiley" Poswolsky, available October 4, 2016 from TarcherPerigee/Penguin Random House.