Lost a passion for your job? Here are 4 proven ways to recapture meaning.

Remember that first day in your new job? It was so full of promise. In fact, you were probably thrilled when you learned you got the position.

Over time, we can lose that sense of possibility and feel trapped by the very job we were excited to get.
If you find that you’ve lost the sense of meaning in what you do, here are four proven ways to get it back:

Recapture areas of autonomy.

In Dan Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he highlights the example that children play and explore all on their own. That each one of us is created with inner drive. He also shares in his book that one of the keys to maintaining our inner drive is having a sense of autonomy in our work.

Susan Fowler writes in the Harvard Business Review, “Autonomy is people’s need to perceive that they have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions.”

While few of us have complete autonomy in our jobs, the more we have, the easier it is for us to experience meaning and engagement. If you are suffering a lack of autonomy, look for the areas where you can recapture it. You may be able to ask for greater creative input, more influence over your schedule, impact on how certain things are done or even the ability to make changes to the space you physically work in. Often, it isn’t even a matter of asking for permission. We can identify an area and take responsibility.

Take a hard look at the tasks you do.

It is hard to feel connected to meaning when our days are eaten up by seemingly meaningless tasks.

Pulling back and thinking through what the real need is that we are trying to meet, then doing a “task audit” usually reveals a number of things we give energy to that don’t serve that high purpose. Of course, it helps if you have a sense of the mission for your job. If your company is convoluted in that area, you can craft your own. For example, if you are in marketing, you can see your job as helping provide for the families that work there.

Taking the time to figure out which tasks would serve the high goals takes some creativity. But if you are going to have the conversation with your team about making changes to the tasks you do, it is essential to be able to walk in with possible solutions.

Reframe your role.

“When it comes to purpose at work, there are three core drives that will determine whether we feel fulfilled in what we’re doing," writes Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy, "who we serve, how we serve them and why we serve them.”  

We can get in a rut of just seeing our little piece of the world forgetting that it fits into a bigger picture.

“The happiest people feel like they’re needed,” says David Brooks, an NY Times Columnist who studies satisfaction at work. Brooks shares the story of a study of hospital custodial workers where some described their work as cleaning up after people, while other workers described it as creating a safe environment for patients. “If your attitude is about that service, you just have a happier job and a more meaningful job,” Brooks says.

How we tell the story of what we do matters. Not only can it influence our own mental view, but it can also shift how others see us as well.

Tell the voice inside your head to 'shut up'

Most of the time the stress levels of high achievers are internally generated. All of the self-critiquing and judgmental thoughts we have about ourselves create unnecessary pressure--and frequently have nothing to do to with what has to get done or the way the people we work with see us.

We can get caught up comparing ourselves with friends at other firms, co-workers, people with more experience--or even just what we see on a daily basis via Facebook. That critical voice draws attention from the meaning in our job and puts it squarely on us--shifting our reason for working from meaning and purpose to our own egos. (Yes, I may be writing from personal experience here.)

And ego-driven service almost always burns out.

So, the next time you start to feel that anxiety, shift the focus back to the people you are serving. That shift forces us to stop defining our identity based on our performance and has the power to reconnect us to the meaning of why we do what we do.
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