5 Questions to Find Meaning in Your Work

meaningful work

From 2002 to 2012, I shared my life with the four-legged love of my life, a Czechoslovakian Shepherd named Kona.

He meant everything to me, and I wanted to give him the best of everything!

However, almost from the day of his birth, Kona had health challenges, all of which were serious but treatable.

When I say “treatable,” I mean, extremely expensive to treat.

In the first 18 months of his life alone, his vet bills cost over $10,000 – and every year, they skyrocketed.

Now, during those 10 years, I was very fortunate to have a job that paid me enough to cover my own needs and all of Kona’s vet bills. But the workplace environment and office politics were at times emotionally and spiritually draining. Yet, I chose to continue working at this job in order to give Kona the best possible care I could afford.

Along the way I had to find a way to make it easier — notice I said easier, not necessarily easy — to show up and do the work.

My Authentic Self

One of the reasons it was easier for me to show up and do the work was that I was able to bring many of my values, my favorite skills, my interest and my passions — what I refer to as my Authentic Self — into the workplace.

For example, I was a very good project manager and business process engineer, and my job enabled me to use both of these skills. Also, out of necessity, I became very knowledgeable about Kona’s medical condition and how to navigate the often confusing highways and byways of experimental treatments, pet insurance and breed-specific health issues.

As a result, colleagues often asked me for advice on a variety of issues they were facing with their own pets. Since this was one of my passions, I was grateful to be able to bring it into the workplace as well.

Thriving Without Your “Life’s Work?”

Are you like me? Perhaps you might not be in a position to work at something you love and that fills you with a sense of purpose. Perhaps your present circumstances — financially, emotionally, physically — do not allow you to pursue work that is in your best and highest interest. Perhaps you’re wondering how you can possibly thrive if you aren’t pursuing your Life’s Work.

Fortunately, there is an answer!

As long as you have to work in order to have what you need or want your life to include, you’ll be happier — or at least more willing to show up and do the work — if the work you do aligns with your Authentic Self and what is most important to you.

If you take the time to identify the components of your Authentic Self that are most important to you, you’ll have a much better chance at finding an emotional connection to whatever your work demands of you. This will allow you to thrive.

Discovering Your Authentic Self

Although most of us appreciate our unique individuality, few of us have done more than scratch the surface with regard to recognizing and appreciating the unique profile of talents, skills and abilities each of us has.

In addition, usually people are most proud of the skills that took a great deal of time and effort to develop. But they often take for granted the things they are best at doing because these things come so naturally and easily to them.

In his book, The Pathfinder, Nicholas Lore wrote,

Most of the people we most admire reached their level of achievement not by changing into someone else but by embracing their natures fully and using their personalities as instruments of self-expression.”

You, too, can learn to be an instrument of self-expression by answering five simple questions:

  • What are my values?
  • What are my passions and interests?
  • What comes naturally to me?
  • What are my favorite skills?
  • What are my personality preferences?

Let’s take a closer look at these questions.


A value is a principle, standard, or quality considered inherently worthwhile or desirable. Values are what motivate and fulfill you.

They are what guide you through every day, every task, every encounter with another being. They imbue your work and your life with meaning. Your truest values are those that you live by or that you are willing to commit to live by. Examples include:

  • Accomplishment
  • Autonomy
  • Balance
  • Belonging to a Group
  • Compassion
  • Creativity
  • Doing Good
  • Faith
  • Family
  • Friendships
  • Financial Security
  • Health
  • Integrity
  • Leadership

Passions & Interests

These are things you feel strongly about, or you like the way they makes you feel when you are engaged in them. Your passions can include interests that you’ve never done before or activities or hobbies that you’ve always been drawn to but never tried.

Ask yourself this, “If I could talk about something with someone all day long, day after day, what would that subject or field of interest be? Examples include:

  • Golf
  • Cooking
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Animal Behavior
  • Gardening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Painting
  • Sewing
  • Investing
  • Homeopathic Healing

Natural Abilities

Everyone is born with a unique group of talents that are as individual as a fingerprint or snowflake. These natural abilities give each person a special talent to do certain kinds of tasks easily and happily.

Your natural abilities remain with you, unchanging, for your entire life. Examples include:

  • Organizing
  • Motivating
  • Planning
  • Leading
  • Teaching
  • Writing

Favorite Skills

A skill is an ability or expertise. A favorite skill is one that you not only possess but are also interested in and willing to use.

Skills can be both personal and professional. Examples include:

  • Planning
  • Mentoring
  • Coaching
  • Analyzing
  • Leading/Supervising
  • Instructing
  • Interpreting
  • Facilitating

Personality Preferences

These are traits that are usually derived from tests such as Meyers Briggs and include words like:

  • Introverted
  • Outgoing
  • Structured
  • Spontaneous
  • Idealistic
  • Realistic
  • Assertive
  • Acquiescent
  • Emotional
  • Controlling
  • Factual

Now, you might not agree with using personality tests to determine work compatibility. But consider this: If you describe yourself as introverted, you might be happier teleworking than working in an office environment where everyone is chummy and there is an expectation of doing things together socially.

As another example, if you define yourself as spontaneous, you might find that working at a 9-to-5 job where you have to sign in and out is too restrictive.

Bring Your Authentic Self into the Workplace

Once you have a clear picture of your Authentic Self, you need to determine which elements are most important to you. These, then, are the ones you bring into the workplace.

The components of your Authentic Self that are most important to you will help you make appropriate decisions and choices so that you don’t compromise on what is truly important when it comes to being able to show up and do the work, no matter what that works entails.

At the heart of this exercise are these questions:

  • How passionate must I feel about my work?
  • Is it enough to be doing interesting activities so I can just pay the bills, or must I also have a personal interest in the subject matter?
  • Would I be willing to consider doing something else to meet my needs and wants?
  • Are there things that I think are highly significant, important or meaningful but am okay that they aren’t the centerpiece of my work?

In her book, I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was, Barbara Sher said,

You must learn to respect the wisdom of your natural instincts, because they are probably superb when it comes to weaving everything you need into your life.”

Are you respecting the wisdom of your natural instincts? A sense of purpose and authenticity is essential to success and effectiveness.

Those without a clear idea of who they are and what is most important to them will not have the foundation to keep going in the face of change or challenge.

Regardless of what kind of job you are doing now or what you may do in the future, regardless of whether you’ve found your purpose in life, whether you’re still looking for it, or whether you just want to “work to feed dogs,” taking the time to discover your Authentic Self will enable you to not just survive the workplace but to thrive!

(Photo by 873770 / CC BY)

McDowell Graham is an author, motivational speaker (at least her dogs think so) and intuitive consultant. She writes, blogs, coaches, and teaches workshops aimed at helping people transform their limiting thoughts into limitless possibilities so they can move from where they are to where they want to be.


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