5 strategies to find meaningful work

The current pandemic has been a powerful wake-up call—especially to the 2020 workforce. It has helped many of us reevaluate our values and reset our priorities. More and more people want to work for companies that care as much about giving back as they do the bottom line. We want to feel an authentic connection between the work we do and a broader life purpose beyond ourselves. Yet sometimes, meaningful work seems hard to come by. In a recent study, over 80% of college-educated Americans aspire to have such work, but less than 50% actually attain it. To get you closer to finding a career that allows you to make a positive contribution to the world, here are five essential strategies.

Create space

Creating space in our daily schedules to focus on high-impact work is essential. The more activities you add into your life, the more difficult it can be to pay attention to the things that really matter to us. Think about scheduling “meaningful work” sessions on a weekly or monthly basis. Cal Newport, the best-selling author of Deep Work, prioritizes meaningful work sessions months in advance as a way to boost his productivity. He says, “At any given point, I should have deep work scheduled for roughly the next month. This four-week lead time is sufficiently long enough that when someone requests a chunk of my time, I’ve almost certainly already reserved my deep work blocks for that period.” Better yet, schedule your session first thing in the morning. That way, no matter what happens the rest of the day, you will have given your personal mission top priority.

Serve others

Research shows that people who perceive their efforts as helping others experience more meaningfulness. Focus on using your gifts for the greater good. And you don’t necessarily need to work for a non-profit or a charity organization to have a positive impact on humanity. Look at GSK. The company dedicates itself to creating a healthier population by researching and developing a broad range of innovative pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare products. One of GSK’s Medical Affairs Managers shares that “being at a company like GSK means that I can make a difference in the global perspective—that’s what drives me.” Then there’s Edmodo, the number one K-12 social learning network in the world. Edmodo employees love knowing that their work positively impacts the lives of students, teachers, and parents all over the world.

Use the alignment triangle

Finding meaningful work involves seeking alignment between three areas: passion, values and gifts (or what some may call talent or skills). Do you have a hobby, or something you enjoyed doing as a child, but never considered it a career possibility? Do you find yourself doing something that you love where the time seems to fly by? These questions can help reveal your hidden passions. Then consider your values. Is family your number one priority? Financial stability? Creativity? Make a list and prioritize them. As Aristotle once said, “where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.” What things do you enjoy and are good at? Those are activities that, when aligned with passion and values, can lead to work that truly lights you up inside.

Find like-minded people

Get outside your comfort zone and begin searching for people that have the same interests. Are you fascinated by the social impact space? Research organizations and companies committed to social good. Find groups that share your passion. Then use your new network to get connected to companies you may like to work for. Take this opportunity to use your transferrable skills in a whole new arena. By surrounding yourself with supportive communities made up of purpose-driven individuals, you’ll be more likely to embrace your fears and find meaningful opportunities. Over time, you can even create your own personal advisory board—a group of trusted supporters that can help you grow personally and professionally.  

Give yourself a financial cushion

They say pay is called “compensation” because it compensates the worker for being somewhere they would rather not be, doing something they would rather not be doing. Meaning has become the new money. According to the Harvard Business Review,  nine out of ten Americans admit that they would give up a significant chunk of their paycheck–up to 23% of their lifetime earnings–if they could trade their day job for more meaningful work. Of course, not all of us have that luxury. Take time to analyze your financial situation. What compromises are you willing to make to pursue a more worthwhile career path? In the event you decide to quit your job or start a business, be sure to give yourself a sufficient financial runway.

Finding meaningful work is an intensely personal journey. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. But by following these strategies, you can get closer than you ever imagined.

Feeling stuck and unfulfilled in your current career? Download Caroline Castrillon’s free guide: 5 Signs It’s Time to Make a Bold Career Change!


  • Caroline Castrillon

    Founder/Career and Life Coach

    Corporate Escape Artist

    Caroline Castrillon is the founder of Corporate Escape Artist and a career and life coach whose mission is to help people go from soul-sucking job to career fulfillment. Caroline made the leap to entrepreneurship after a successful 25-year corporate career and has never looked back. Prior to Corporate Escape Artist, she worked in leadership positions for small tech firms and for large Fortune 500 companies including Dell and Sony. She has an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) and Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner (ELI-MP). In addition to Thrive Global, she also contributes to Forbes and has been featured in publications including the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Inc. and Success Magazine.