6 Steps to Build a Meaningful Career

Achieving Goals, Career Enrichment, Leadership Coaching, Mindset & Mindfulness
07/03/23 - Ama La Vida
woman working while holding a tablet

Life’s too short to settle for a job that doesn’t make your heart sing, right? We get it. You want a career that’s not just “meh,” but downright amazing. You might even call it a “dream job.” At Ama La Vida, we believe that everyone deserves a career (not just a job) – and we’re here to show you how to make it happen. We’re breaking down the key steps and crucial tips that’ll help you build a career that feels like a dream come true.

a stylish desk set-up with a desktop computer that says "Do More." on screen.

Understanding the Meaningful Career Journey

Before we dive into the practical steps, we need to define the concept of a meaningful career and the transformative impact career satisfaction can have on your life. Research has found that when employees find their work to be meaningful, their performance improves by 33 percent, they are 75 percent more committed to their organization, and are 49 percent less likely to leave. These statistics highlight the profound connection between meaning, engagement, and overall job satisfaction.

However, despite the impact a satisfying career has on your life, that same study uncovered that only 50 percent of employees find true meaning in their current roles. This suggests that there is a pressing need for individuals to embark on a deliberate journey to cultivate a meaningful career. By understanding the key elements and taking intentional steps, you can shape your professional path towards greater fulfillment and satisfaction.

So, what makes work meaningful?

We’ll give you a hint, it’s probably not money, benefits or even job security (though those absolutely help!). No, people who find jobs that fulfill their need for purpose-driven work don’t focus on extrinsic motivators to bring them joy in their careers. Instead, they focus on key internal motivators.

The big one? WHY. Why am I doing this work?

Simon Sinek famously outlined this simple (yet profound) framework for leadership in his book, “Start with Why” (check out his TEDx Talk here).

At the end of the day, “meaningful work” is about work that matters to you. With that, we’ll be outlining 6 key steps to chart a career path that feels important and worthwhile for your own life.

Step 1: Identifying Your Passions, Values, and Gifts

One of the fundamental building blocks of meaningful work is aligning your daily job with your passion, values, and gifts. When you engage in activities that resonate with your values and ignite your enthusiasm, work becomes more than just a job or pay—it becomes a source of fulfillment and joy.

In our signature courses, The ALV Career Method and The Career Empowerment Toolkit, members begin their career satisfaction exploration with guided questions, assessments, research, and exercises designed to help them uncover their own personal motivators that serve as the foundation for the rest of the work they do, either on their own or with a coach.

To start, however, you can take a moment to reflect on the activities that genuinely excite you, the subjects that capture your curiosity, the parts of your life that feel the most important to you, and finally the activities that come particularly easily to you. All of these together contribute to a feeling of purpose in your work.

You might find that your passion lies in areas that directly relate to your current job or industry, or you may discover hidden passions that have been waiting to be explored. It’s crucial not to limit yourself to preconceived notions about what a career should be. Sometimes, the most fulfilling paths are unconventional and unexpected.

Some of our favorite questions to consider are:

  • What activities do I enjoy the most, both inside and outside of work?
  • What subjects or topics fascinate and inspire me?
  • In what ways do I want to make a positive impact in the world?
  • Are there any specific causes or issues that resonate deeply with me?

By exploring these questions, you can uncover the factors of what a fulfilling job looks like for you. Think of it like doing research on yourself! And remember, it’s never too late to realign your path and pursue work that you’re passionate about.

Step 2: Turn Purpose into Clear Career Goals

Aligning your job with your passion, values, gifts, and purpose is a great place to start, but if you don’t take the time to define your goals, it will become very hard to chart a course toward what you want. Instead, you’re left with a hazy vision of the future, off in the distance somewhere. Or worse, watching time pass and wishing you’d made a job change decades ago.

When setting career goals, it’s crucial to make them specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound—SMART goals. This framework helps bring clarity and structure to your objectives, increasing the likelihood of success. For example, instead of setting a general goal like “advance in my career,” you can define a SMART goal like “earn a leadership position within my department within the next two years.”

At Ama La Vida, we like to take it one step further. Not just goals that are SMART, but actually EPIC. These are goals that are elevating, practical, impactful, and clear. The key difference here ties directly into ensuring your goals have meaning for you in your own life.

  • Elevating: Do these goals inspire you?
  • Practical: Can you realistically achieve them?
  • Impactful: Will it matter if you reach these goals?
  • Clear: How will you know that you’ve hit your targets?

Adding this layer onto your goals further ties them into your vision of a career that will have meaning for you.

Once you have a clear definition of purposeful work and turned that into an EPIC goal (or goals), you’ll want to take it one step further and make a plan to help you get there.

Step 3: Make a Detailed Plan

There’s a good chance that to reach a lofty career vision, you’ll need to take more than just one step to get there, and it might take a while. Honestly, even if you’d already rate yourself high on job satisfaction, it’s still important to continue developing your career. Life is unpredictable. You never know when you’ll want (or need) to make a change.

By making a plan for reaching your goals, you’re doing the research and work now to be in the best position possible to take advantage of any career opportunities that may crop up. Here are a few things to consider when making a career plan:

Developing In-Demand Skills

It’s no secret that technology changes quickly, and it seems there’s always more to learn. However, don’t limit yourself to just technical or hard skills as you’re creating your career plan. Take the time to think about the soft skills you’ll need as well—leadership, empathy, organization, etc.—and how you’re going to accrue or hone those over time.

Start by doing some research on the skills that are highly valued in your industry or desired field. An easy entry point is digging into job descriptions for roles that seem interesting or exciting to you, and identifying what requirements they list.

Then, you can attend webinars or conferences, do some job-crafting at work, or take some continuing education like an online course or certification program, to add these keywords to your CV.

Bonus: For many people, simply the act of continuous learning creates a feeling of purpose and meaning!

Cultivating Relationships and Networks

Sorry to tell you, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to find the job of your dreams (or reach any goal, for that matter) entirely on your own. Cultivating relationships and networks is an invaluable aspect of professional growth and can open doors to new opportunities, mentorship, and support.

Take the time to nurture both personal and business relationships. Actively engage with colleagues, mentors, industry peers, and other professionals in your network. Attend networking events, participate in industry-related discussions, and join professional associations to expand your reach and connect with like-minded individuals.

Remember, relationship-building is a two-way street. Be genuine, authentic, and supportive in your interactions. Offer your assistance and expertise to pay it forward to others whenever possible, as it strengthens your connections and fosters a culture of collaboration, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice when you need it.

Cultivate a Personal Brand

It’s not just what you do that matters, it’s who knows it. You could be the best person for a new job that’s absolutely ideal for you, but if no one knows who you are, what you’re about, and how you add value, you won’t even be considered for the role.

Your personal brand is an extension of your networking efforts. Make sure that the people you work with, the people you meet, and even the people you’re connected with online get a chance to see the things you care about and are good at doing.

These efforts don’t need to be overwhelming. When you share publicly on topics you’re passionate about, showcase your values, highlight projects and continuing education, or just a cool podcast you listened to—and do it on a regular basis—you’re building your brand.

Step 4: Actively Seek Growth Opportunities

Beyond making a plan, to achieve it, you will likely have to step outside your comfort zone and actively seek out opportunities for growth. This part of the journey is all about embracing challenges and being willing to take calculated risks that can propel you forward.

A great way to create opportunities for growth is to seek stretch assignments or projects that push your boundaries and allow you to develop new skills at your current job. Talk to your boss or other teams within your company and express your interest in taking on additional responsibilities or spearheading initiatives that align with your career vision. Even if your efforts aren’t rewarded right away, it demonstrates your passion, commitment, and willingness to go above and beyond.

Beyond stretch assignment, don’t shy away from seeking career advancement within your current job. Initiate conversations with your boss about your career aspirations and discuss potential paths for growth. By demonstrating your passion, ambition, and commitment, you signal to your employer that you are invested in your own development and the goals of the business. Plus, these jobs can also lead to higher pay, which is nice too!

Step 5: Navigating Work-Life Balance

Let’s be honest. A fulfilling career is not solely about what you do at work; it’s about doing work that you love and that supports your personal life. In the past, conversations about personal well-being were seen as a sign of weakness, but it is increasingly recognized that satisfaction in our careers without life satisfaction just isn’t, well, satisfying.

Striking the right balance and integration between your work and home life requires intentional effort and boundaries. Here are a few ways you can support that harmony:

  1. Set boundaries: Let go of the assumption that you need to spend long hours at the office or be constantly available in order to be valuable at work. Instead, determine what is reasonable and sustainable for you, and then communicate that clearly to the people around you. You may need to figure out how to enforce new boundaries with people who have pushed them in the past, but at the end of the day, it’s not about “being mean” or “selfish,” it’s about making sure you’re able to do your best work.
  2. Prioritize self-care: Make self-care a priority in your daily routine. Engage in activities that promote your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, such as exercise, getting outside, interests, or spending quality time with loved ones. Feel like self-care isn’t reasonable? Check out this article that will change the way you think about self-care forever.
  3. Delegate and seek support: Successful people don’t do everything alone. Learn to delegate tasks when possible and seek support from colleagues, friends, or family members. Sharing responsibilities allows you to focus on what matters most and maintain a healthy balance, and gives them the opportunity to grow themselves as they figure it out.
  4. Practice mindfulness: Research shows that mindfulness and mindfulness-based therapy was especially effective for reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Whether through meditation, deep breathing exercises, or simply being fully engaged in the present moment, mindfulness can greatly enhance your well-being.
  5. Identify your optimal working environment: The reality is, job satisfaction can vary widely depending on the company, benefits, culture, and physical work environment. Just think about the impact a commute can have on your day! Do some self-reflection on what working environment is most conducive to your best work. If your company can’t align with that, it may be time to look for different jobs.

Remember, work-life balance looks different for everyone. Find the approach that works best for you and adapt it as needed. Prioritize your well-being and invest time and energy into the people and activities that bring you joy and fulfillment outside of work.

Bonus: Making a Valuable Contribution

Building a fulfilling career also allows you to make a valuable contribution to the world. When your career aligns with your values and goals, you have the power to leave a positive impact on society. Here are some key ways to add purpose to your career path:

Explore Purpose-Driven Industries

There are specific occupations that will inherently be more aligned with your passions and values. Start by exploring purpose-driven industries such as non-profits, social enterprises, and healthcare. These sectors are known for their commitment to making a difference in the world. For example, you could find a job with a non-profit organization that focuses on providing education to underprivileged communities, or join a social enterprise dedicated to promoting sustainable practices in the business world. By being part of these industries, you can contribute to causes that resonate with your values and give you a deep sense of connection and meaning.

Seek Out Projects and Roles Addressing Societal Challenges

Once you have identified purpose-driven industries, seek out projects and jobs within them that address pressing societal challenges that are important to you. For instance, you could lead a project aimed at reducing carbon emissions and promoting environmental sustainability, or take on a job that focuses on championing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. By actively engaging with these initiatives, you can make a direct impact on the issues that matter most to you.

Collaborate with Like-Minded Individuals

Collaboration is a powerful tool when it comes to making a difference. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who share your passion for creating positive change. Engage in discussions, share ideas, and collaborate on projects that have a positive social impact. By working together, you can amplify your efforts and inspire new initiatives that address complex societal issues. For example, you could form a team of professionals from diverse backgrounds to develop innovative solutions for improving access to healthcare in underserved communities.

Stay Informed and Embrace Continuous Learning

To remain effective in your contributions, stay informed about current issues and trends related to your work. By staying educated and adaptable, you position yourself to make a more informed and impactful contribution to the causes you are passionate about.

Remember, making a difference through your job is a lifelong journey. Embrace the opportunity to contribute to the greater good and create positive change through your career.

Step 6: Celebrate What You Achieve and Seek Out Happiness

Recognizing and celebrating milestones and achievements is an important aspect of a fulfilling career. It not only allows you to acknowledge your progress but also serves as a source of motivation and inspiration in the future. Here are some key points to consider when it comes to celebrating your achievements and finding happiness in your career journey:

Recognizing and celebrating milestones and achievements

Take the time to reflect on your journey and acknowledge what you achieve along the way. Whether it’s reaching a significant career goal, completing a challenging project, or receiving recognition for your contributions, each milestone represents a step forward in your career development. By recognizing these moments, you can gain a sense of accomplishment and boost your confidence. We love the exercise of reflecting weekly in a Brag Book to make this process a habit.

Cultivating overall happiness and fulfillment

Our careers are an integral part of our lives, but it is important to remember that your happiness extends beyond your job. Strive for a healthy work-life balance that allows you to pursue your passions, spend quality time with the people that matter to you, and live a lifestyle that supports your physical and mental well-being. Remember, a fulfilling career is one that supports your lifestyle, not the other way around.

By recognizing milestones, expressing gratitude, finding joy and satisfaction, you can create a career that brings you both professional success and personal fulfillment. Celebrate your achievements, embrace the journey, and remember to find happiness not only in your career, but also in all aspects of your life.

Building your dream job

When it comes to building a fulfilling career path, it’s not about luck. Take the time to identify what the dream job is for you, create a plan to get there, and don’t be shy in seeking opportunities for growth—whether that means a career change or expanding your role at your current company. Don’t forget that our lives are more than work. If your job doesn’t enhance your lifestyle and improve your life satisfaction, there’s room to explore other options and means of growth.

Are you ready to dive deeper into taking control of your career path? Join us for The Career Edge webinar, where you’ll learn the foundation of Ama La Vida’s career development approach and gain valuable advice for moving your career forward.

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