Be the Boss Over Cancer

In a recent survey of 120 people who are dissatisfied with their work, the number one thing that was identified as a missing ingredient is "meaning." The search for meaning in one's job and career path is particularly pressing for cancer survivors. No matter what your prognosis, a brush with your own mortality can make you acutely aware of how precious your time is.

The difficulty with trying to find meaning in your work is that it can be hard to know exactly what it is that would feel truly meaningful to you as an individual. (It far is easier to recognize what isn't meaningful.) Meaning is defined as something that is significant. What is significant for one person is entirely different for another. Many people assume that having meaning in one's work signifies helping less advantaged people or working for a charitable cause. While this can be true, there are many other kinds of "meaning" that fulfill people.

Below is a list of ten ways a job could provide meaning:
1. By rewarding or challenging you with new opportunities, money or recognition.
2. By being in an especially intriguing, attractive or energizing field or industry
3. By allowing you to express or live by certain standards, principles or values.
4. By giving back, sharing, changing or improving something in some way that makes a difference either internally or externally.
5. By letting you solve problems or answer complex questions in some way
6. By changing, modifying or altering your lifestyle, priorities or relationships.
7. By being something you feel passionate about.
8. By supporting a cause: contributing time, resources or expertise; advocating for a change on behalf of a cause; promoting the mission of a social/political movement.
9. By letting you innovate or create (ie introducing, producing or imagining something new or original)
10.  By enabling you to gain knowledge, understanding or expertise through experience or study.

Which ones resonate with you? Which have been absent in your current position?  Which have you discovered since your cancer diagnosis?

Once you have a better understanding of what your brand of meaning is, make a list of all of the obstacles that you feel may be preventing you from having meaning in your work. Common barriers? A fear of not earning enough money, not enough time or energy, your attitude, fear of change, a lack of knowledge or credentials, the worry that your opportunities will be less because of your cancer history or your perception that it is too late to do what you need to do to find meaning. Most of these aren't as real as you may think. The first step is to find several people who have found the kind of meaning you are looking for and asking them for advice. Next, put a simple action plan together with a timeline that spells out the things you need to accomplish such as taking a class, making a budget, doing research or hiring a coach. The key now is to do the things you've written down. Anyone who has found meaning in his or her work will tell you that the effort it takes to get there is well worth it!

Tell us: What is your definition of meaningful work?  Has it changed since your diagnosis?  If so, how?


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  • Terry T.

    Terry T. on Nov 11, 2007

    Meaningful work is that which helps others and thru that helps me feel good. I have been a nurse practitioner (with cancer diagnosis this year) for years. When diagnosed I was actually treating cancer patients/in a cancer hospital. The hospital chose not to hold my job any longer while I was off on a leave of absence. I feel I need a new/different way to use my skills to help others vs. running from room to room doing less than I think I should/could for patients due to insurance and financial quotas. And, I get so sick of "big business" in healthcare.

  • Marla A.

    Marla A. on Jan 7, 2008

    Meaningful work means to do something that encourages others to do their best. Remembering to keep everything that is important first in your life. Never comprimise family,true friends, vacation nor everything important in your life in exchange for long hours on a job you do not enjoy. If we have to work, do something that is going to make you feel good at the end of everyday. Being diagnosed with Lymphoma and undergoing chemo treatments has certainly changed my outlook on my career. I am definitely changing my career. I will not miss anymore lunches, doctors appointments, nor family events because of work. I have the rest of my life to work. I now have a second chance to make sure I live a happy life. It is all up to me.

  • User avatar

    Anonymous on Nov 16, 2009

    I definately resonate with the need to do meaningful work. My job before my diagnosis was completely empty, I hardly had responsbilities, and I had no interest in the activities of the organization I worked for. Now - I have a serious need to use my time in a meaningful way, and feel acutely aware that I am presenting a work history that may not speak, effectively, to my current interests. Transferable skills aside, this economy, this city, is full of experienced people looking for work, how can I compete?? The catch 22 is that after cancer, I must feel my time is being used fulfillingly, and in this economy, the competition for work is fierce. I'm frozen as a result.

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