In an interview late in his life, psychologist Sigmund Freud was asked to expound on what he felt were the most important components of life.
His answer? "Liebe und arbeit." Love and work.
This is hardly a surprise. For most of human history, the meaning of work and the meaning of life intersected at survival. Work was life.
Yet for many of us, work that we would call "meaningful" remains elusive. We can't always pinpoint what's missing or what would give our work lives meaning.
Finding your genius
Ultimately, the meaning in your work isn't whether the enterprise you work for is local or "transnational," but how closely the work you perform in that organization is in alignment with what author Dick Richards calls "your genius."
In his book "Is Your Genius at Work?" Richards uses the term to mean that unique intersection of what you are good at (your gift) and what you love to do (your passion). As he explains, you have just one genius, it is a positive talent, and it can be described in a short phrase such as "Engaging the heart," or "Optimizing results." While his rules may be a little rigid, the point is well taken — your genius is a transitive verb, not an adjective. It's about doing something, not being something.
Once you have identified your unique genius, the challenge becomes how to find that often-elusive intersection between your genius and that "unmet need" in the world, so that someone will pay you to work in a way that uses your genius. By identifying and labeling your genius, Richards says, you gain confidence and the ability to articulate just how you can contribute in those situations. Your heart gets into alignment with your work, and suddenly work looks more like play.
The Alarm Clock Test
This, then, begs the question: What is the meaning of "meaningful"? To answer a question like that, you can apply the Alarm Clock Test. If the alarm clock rings and you're already out of bed getting ready for work because you're thrilled with what you're doing, and each new day on the job is certain to provide some worthy experience, then the chances are pretty good that you're somewhere near that sweet spot — regardless of the size of the enterprise that employs you.
But if you're failing the Alarm Clock Test — not just part of the time but all of the time — looking for a different kind of work makes sense. It will take patience, self-regulation, risk, and a willingness to change to face all the challenges of figuring out what to do and how best to do it.
Finding meaningful work is often a lifelong process. On my journey, I recently accepted a new full-time position as Director of Dental Services at Exeter Health Resources, located in New Hampshire. For numerous reasons, meaningful work being one, this is an incredible opportunity! I will continue as the director of eVillage, but my travel will be limited.
Here's to finding your "sweet spot!"
Kristine A. Hodsdon RDH, BS