The pursuit of the American dream can be bittersweet. Most of us were taught what the ideal job looks like: It’s one that pays your way through life and lets you make a difference for yourself and for those around you.
Most of us also know what it feels like to walk into work every morning and think, “What am I doing here?” or, “How did it come to this?” Regardless of whether you’re a freelance comic artist or a call center operator, there are ways to make those mundane days more meaningful.
Ask for (or create) more opportunities
Oftentimes, our sense of career discontent comes from a lack of autonomy. We need to be able to make decisions and take action to feel like our work makes a difference. If we’re just going through the motions or aren’t given a chance to make our voices heard, that lack of autonomy can start to make us feel like cogs in a machine.
To combat this sense of drudgery, identify ways that you can make more direct contributions. Try to notice consistent “problems” that come up in meetings and pitch a creative solution to your boss.
Don’t be afraid to be direct if you feel stuck. During your next chat with your boss, say something like, “I love what I do here at ABC Company, but I feel like my knowledge of finance could really come in handy as we budget for all of these new projects. If you hear of any opportunities to get involved in that side of the business, would you be willing to keep me in mind?”
Sometimes, the best way to get what you want is to ask for it.
Incorporate your passions
Most people don’t nab their dream job right away: After all, does anyone really lust after the idea of pressing buttons on a register for eight hours? Probably not.
But if you don’t have an immediate out, there are ways to make your current situation a better fit. Do you love making people happy? Go out of your way to get to know your customers and brighten their days. Do you like being creative? Ask your boss if you can help design the product displays next time…and, in doing things like this, you’ll also prove that you’ve got more to offer than fingers on a keyboard.
Actively seek feedback
Obviously, every person we meet develops an opinion of us. But we try not to think about that to keep ourselves sane.
Challenge yourself to change that for a few days. Instead of hoping your boss is pleased with your work, ask her. Say: “What do you think my strongest assets are at ABC Company?” And, if you’re feeling bold, try: “How do you think I could contribute more here?”
Use that feedback as an opportunity to make your office a better place.
Make your coworkers’ day better
Sometimes we can create meaning in our work that has nothing to do with our actual, well…work. Get creative and bring positivity to your coworkers’ days. Lighten the mood on a stressful day. Ask people how they’re doing and engage attentively with their answers. If you can make their work world better, then you will have actively made a difference.
Are you perpetually bored but notice that your coworker is overworked? Take the initiative and ask how you can help. Get involved in planning holiday parties. Make connections with new people.
It may sound silly, but sometimes the little things can be the most fulfilling. You don’t have to be a human rights activist to make a difference. Feel good about yourself when you help Susan in Accounting reboot her laptop. Then offer up those skills every time you see an opportunity to contribute – it’ll make you feel needed, make your boss see your value, and help you add value to your own day.
In short, meaning doesn’t have to come from the tasks at hand. Create it in less likely places and it just might make those “meaningless” tasks feel less mundane.
There are a myriad of little ways to make a big difference in your work life so the daily grind feels a little less grating. Who knows? Maybe the opportunities you really crave will present themselves to you in the process.
What have you done to make your work situation better? Did it allow you to enjoy your job more? I’d love to hear about your experiences.