In dire times, it’s natural to question the meaningfulness of your work. When your world is shaken by a massive disruption, your job may seem insignificant and even pointless.
On the other hand, crises can also heighten feelings of purpose and connection. Crises lead many people to find deep value in their jobs, develop professionally, and grow personally. Today most of us don’t have frontline roles in the fight against coronavirus, of course. But we all can still discover ways to contribute through our everyday work, by taking these three steps:
- Empower yourself with small actions
When you’re feeling overwhelmed and can’t help but obsess over the big things that you can’t influence, this badly affects your mental well-being. Instead, try to act on whatever aspect of the situation that’s still in your control, no matter how minor.
That will bolster your feelings of personal effectiveness and make it easier to then move on to more meaningful goals – to think about what else you can do to improve the situation for yourself, your colleagues, or your community.
The idea here is just to get moving: Try a number of things and see what sticks. We assume that our goals determine our actions. But the reverse is also true. Our small actions generate feedback that allows us to discover more meaningful goals.
- Consider how your unique skills can address crisis-related challenges.
Proactive employees are increasingly using “job crafting” to actively redesign their work to better fit their strengths, passions, and motives. Part of this approach, according to Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski, involves simply rethinking how you view your work.
During this crisis you can fight the recession that the pandemic is likely to cause simply by keeping your business operating. Remember that it’s providing paychecks that feed families and helping vendors do the same. But even more significantly, you can mold your job to contribute solutions to your community’s current problems.
Start by taking an inventory of your skills and resources, and then think creatively about where they could be put to good use. If you’re an expert in investments, for instance, you could dedicate a few hours to giving financial advice to struggling entrepreneurs or those who’ve lost their jobs. If you’re an architect, you could redesign offices, restaurants, and schools to be more virus-proof, and if you’re in marketing, you could help nonprofits provide vital services with their fundraising campaigns. A diverse set of groups is affected by the crisis, so there are countless ways to provide assistance. And by partnering with others, you can maximise your impact.
- Use the crisis as an opportunity to connect with a more purposeful future.
If you’re in a tight spot, there might not be much you can do right now to enhance the meaningfulness of your work. Maybe you’ve been laid off or are so overwhelmed keeping your head above water you have no time for anything else. But you can still find meaning by focusing on the future. Humans’ ability to mentally time travel is unique in the animal kingdom.
We don’t just experience the present; we also can relive the past and envision the future. And research led by Adam Waytz from Kellogg School of Management shows that when we exercise this ability, it enhances how much meaning we feel in the present. Crises interrupt the passive unfolding of our lives and make us more aware of what truly matters. So we’re most apt to gain life-changing insights during them.
A crisis can help you realise that what you want out of your career requires a change in direction. A decade from now, many people may look back at this moment as a turning point at which their path toward a more meaningful existence started. With that in mind, think about what your potential dream job might be in 10 years time but don’t imagine just one job; imagine several.
Now work backward to imagine the paths that took you there. At the same time, explore where your current back-burner projects and dormant passions could lead you. Finding purpose during a crisis is more than making a temporary situation bearable. You didn’t choose the circumstances, but you can choose what to make out of them. Start with small actions and identify how your own skill set could be put to best use. By taking a step or two forward you will not only make a contribution today but reach out toward a more meaningful future.
This article first appeared in Harvard business Review.