Is it possible to find meaning and vitality at work? | Louise Shepherd | Executive Coaching International

Is it possible to find meaning and vitality at work?

Feb 16 - min read

We spend a lot of time at work. A conservative calculation would be close to 70,000 hours over a fairly typical career. So how do you want to spend those hours? This is part of a bigger and perhaps my favourite question, “How do you want to spend your time on this planet?” Perhaps there is more to life than just working to pay off the mortgage.

Meaningful work

When I coach executives I often ask them to imagine what they think their colleagues would say about them. I’m interested both in what others may report AND in what others may not even know. What do you want to stand for at work? What brings meaning to your life, both at work and outside of work? 

Many years ago I worked as a clinical psychologist in an oncology ward. All around me people were facing incredible struggles with cancer. Over time I came to realize that the people cleaning the rooms and delivering meals played just as important a role as the doctors and other health professionals. More than once a patient confided in me that the person they really opened up to was the cleaner or orderly when they popped in late at night. I hope that the cleaners and orderlies on that ward knew how much their work mattered to those around them. Never underestimate that we can find meaning and vitality in all sorts of roles and that vitality doesn’t always come with a bigger pay packet or promotion.  

Deep in your heart

As a coach I’m interested in what gives people meaning and vitality in their lives. We each get to choose how we show up at work and how we handle the inevitable challenges that we face personally and professionally. Once I was helping a senior exec work out what really mattered to him and he identified that his core values were “love, spirituality and family”. He also admitted that his work colleagues didn’t see a lot of the love and in fact he could be quite abrupt at times! This lead to an interesting discussion on how he could bring more “love” into his work life. After a giggle or two about what kind of love would not be appropriate we came up with plenty of ways to live his values at work (e.g through empathy, compassion, kindness, concern for others etc). 

Values in action at work

Once you are clear on what really matters to you and what you want to stand for at work you can start to clarify how to put this into practice. For instance, if you value fun and playfulness you can think of clever ways to have more fun with your team. If health is an important value you can think about creating a sustainable career that involves leaving the office at a decent time and switching off the phone at certain times rather than be connected 24/7. Ideally we can take small frequent actions that are in keeping with our chosen values. It can help to ask yourself, “What have I done in the last 24 hours around this value? What can I do in the next 24-48 hours that is consistent with that?”

Conclusion

Given we spend so much of our time at work it makes sense to seek meaning and vitality during business hours. By clarifying what really matters to you it is possible to create a life worth living and a career worth getting out of bed for. Once you know what matters you can set yourself values-consistent goals that give a focus and purpose to your work life. 

Louise Shepherd is an executive coach with executive coaching international and also runs The Sydney ACT Centre. She has had a successful career for almost 20 years as a clinical psychologist. At eci Louise now works closely with senior executives across a wide array of industry sectors in Australia. 

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