How to make your work have meaning: helping to fill the hole
Last week I wrote about 10 strategies to make your connections count. Today I`m tackling one of those strategies: helping. I have previously written about asking for help – why we often shy away from it, how to ask for it effectively, and where to turn to get the right kind. So this post is about helping others – and how changing your frame of mind about helping can change your life.
Helping Gives Your Work (and life) Meaning
There’s a reason why Brene Brown said connection is why we’re here. It is the connection we have to others that brings meaning to our lives - the belief that we matter. And the aspect of connection that gives us that feeling is helping. When we help someone it makes us feel like the act we took was worthwhile, and the time it took was well spent.
And just like one small act of helping can give that act meaning and make it worthwhile, a lifetime of contribution can give our life meaning and make our existence worthwhile. That is what fills the hole. That is what answers the big why.
So here are two questions to reframe the way you think about helping in relation to your work, that, once answered will not only brighten your day to day, but also give you that sense of purpose.
1. What is your highest contribution?
When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die. – Eleanor Roosevelt
Think about your big picture helping: your contribution. How can you, through your work, make the lives of others and the world better?
If you don’t know where to start, think about why you decided to go to law school in the first place. What kind of contribution did you see yourself making to the legal system and those that use it? Who did you want to help, and how? Did you want to help those who were wronged? Help businesses grow? Help people plan for their future or transition through a tough time? Ensure rights are protected or that everyone gets a fair bargain?
If you have trouble answering those types of questions, take one further step back and ask yourself where your passions lie. What makes you happiest in life? What problem in the world do you most want to solve? What are your strengths? What do people most often compliment you on or thank you for? What is something you take a strong stance on? How would you love to spend your time?
Whatever you find you are passionate about, if you look closely, I bet it will be grounded in helping people or improving the state of the world. And it is by linking a passion grounded in helping to your work, that you will make your greatest contribution. That is how you find your why for working.
So I encourage you to think about who, and how, you would like to help and go for it, because that’s the only way your work will have meaning.
2. How is what you are doing now helping?
Every contribution counts. - Unknown
Once you find the answer to the first question, there are two things that might happen. Either you will find the work you are currently doing is helping you to make your greatest contribution, or you will find it is not.
In the first scenario the answer is easier. In order to bring meaning to every day work, consciously link whatever you are currently doing to your big picture contribution. See where it fits in and remind yourself of it often.
In the second scenario there will likely be some bigger life changes for you to consider, but that doesn’t mean you have wait until those changes happen for your work to have some meaning.
In either case this is what I suggest.
Don’t make work about work. Make it about people. Specifically, make it about helping people.
Ask yourself, whose problem are you solving? Who are you helping? Whose day are you going to make a little better by doing what you are doing?
Whether you are helping a client directly, or helping a senior lawyer help a client, you are helping. I guarantee if you view your work that way, and actually connect with those you are helping, your work will feel more meaningful.
If in the big picture your current work is not your highest contribution, I encourage you to take steps to find out what is and how you can do it, but in the mean time, don’t discount the service you are providing or the people you are helping, by acting like what you are doing doesn’t matter.
You are helping someone, whatever you are doing, and your work matters to them. By thinking about those people you are helping and focusing on helping as the reason for your work, even the most tedious tasks can have meaning. And not only their day, but also yours, will be a little bit brighter.
By reframing work as contribution, and day to day tasks as helping, I have been able to answer my own why for work and found a deeper motivation for everything I do. So I hope you find your why, and a way to make your work meaningful, and I would be surprised to hear if it doesn’t have a something to do with a little thing called helping…
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