Follow Your Calling in a Meaningless Jobfeatured

Some of us worry about the world and yet feel stuck. We imagine that the only way to contribute is to completely change the core of our lives. We think, to follow our calling, we need a new career. And maybe we do. But sometimes a change is too hard or wrenching–for now.

In the meantime, what if we followed our callings in the jobs we already have? How can you be an environmental activist inside a corporation? Or how can you combat institutional racism there? How can you subvert?

Researchers Amy Wrzesniewski, Justin Berg and Jane E. Dutton study what they call “job crafting.” In an article in the Harvard Business Review, the say that job crafting…

…involves redefining your job to incorporate your motives, strengths, and passions. The exercise prompts you to visualize the job, map its elements, and reorganize them to better suit you. In this way, you can put personal touches on how you see and do your job, and you’ll gain a greater sense of control at work…

We can craft our jobs by altering and assessing three areas of work, they say:

Tasks: You can change the boundaries of your job by taking on more or fewer tasks, expanding or diminishing their scope, or changing how they are performed. A sales manager, for instance, might take on additional event planning because he likes the challenge of organizing people and logistics.

Relationships: You can change the nature or extent of your interactions with other people. A managing director, for example, might create mentoring relationships with young associates as a way to connect with and teach those who represent the future of the firm.

Perceptions: You can change how you think about the purpose of certain aspects of your job; or you can reframe the job as a whole. The director of a nonprofit institution, for instance, might choose to think of his job as two separate parts, one not particularly enjoyable (the pursuit of contributions and grants) and one very meaningful (creating opportunities for emerging artists). Or the leader of an R&D unit might come to see her work as a way of advancing the science in her field rather than simply managing projects.

In another article, they discuss a study of hospital cleaners:

The data separated the cleaners into two groups. One group created a task and relational boundary in the job that included only a mini- mum of necessary tasks and interaction with as few others as possible. Members of this group disliked cleaning in general, judged the skill level of the work to be low, and were less willing to step outside formal job boundaries to engage with others and alter job tasks. In contrast, the second group of cleaners altered the task and relational boundaries of the job to include addi- tional work tasks, as well as frequent interactions with patients, visitors, and others in their unit. Members of this group liked the job, en- joyed cleaning, felt the work was highly skilled, and engaged in many tasks that helped patients and visitors and made others’ jobs in the unit (e.g., nurses, clerks) go more smoothly.

In fact, the study found that cleaners who crafted their callings into their jobs were more satisfied than doctors who did not.

So if you want more meaning in your job, the questions are two-fold:

  1. What is your calling? What is the gift you are called to give? What worries you about the world and what gifts do you love giving that can help fix those worries?
  2. How can you pursue your calling in your current work life? How can you craft the tasks, relationships and perceptions you have of your job to allow you to pursue your calling.

Here are some articles that might help you think about this more deeply:

By the way, if you have experience with this, please let us know in the comments!

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