As you start pulling together the pieces of your job search, it’s important to take a step back and think about the kind of work that is meaningful to you. The search for meaning in a job or career can be particularly pressing for cancer survivors. No matter what your prognosis, a brush with mortality can make you acutely aware of how precious your time is.
The difficulty lies in trying to figure out exactly what kind of work would truly fulfill you as an individual. (It is far easier to recognize what isn't meaningful than what is.) “Meaning” is defined as something that is significant. Remember, too, that what is significant for one person is entirely different for another. Many people assume that a meaningful job or career must involve helping the less advantaged or working for a charitable cause. This is true for some people, but there are other kinds of meaning.
Below is a list of 10 ways a job could provide meaning:
- It challenges you with new opportunities, money or recognition.
- It places you in an especially intriguing, attractive or energizing field or industry.
- It allows you to express or live by certain standards, principles or values.
- It provides an opportunity to give back, share, change, or improve something in a way that makes a difference either internally or externally.
- It allows you to exercise your talent for solving problems or answering complex questions.
- It changes, modifies, or alters your lifestyle, priorities or relationships.
- It involves you in something you feel passionate about.
- It gives you the opportunity to contribute your time, resources or expertise to a cause you believe in; advocate for social or political change; or promote the mission of a social or political group or movement.
- It lets you innovate or create, that is, introduce, produce, or imagine something new or original.
- It enables you to gain knowledge, understanding or expertise through experience or study.
Which kinds of meaning resonate with you? Which have been absent in your current or recent positions? 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 are often practical. Work with meaning may not bring in enough money; you may not have enough time or energy; you may currently lack the right knowledge or credentials. Others have to do with attitude: fear of change; worry that your opportunities will be less because of your cancer history; a perception that it is too late to do what you need to do to find meaning. Most of these barriers — even the “practical” ones — aren't as real as you may think. The first step is to approach several people who have found the kind of meaning you are looking for and ask them for advice. Next, put a simple action plan together, with a timeline, that spells out what you need in order to reach your goal — such as take a class, make a budget, do research or hire a coach. Finally, and this is key, 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!
Cancer has a way of putting a different spin on things. But before you walk out the door in search of something new, it's helpful to remind yourself of what you like about your existing job. Then, delve into what's missing and what gives you feeling of satisfaction. Order or download a free copy of our Job Search Toolkit for a worksheet to help develop a better sense of what you are looking for.