How to Find Rewarding Work

We all have to earn money. But does it have to be so frustrating, stressful and unfulfilling? I say NO. Here are my personal requirements to find more meaning in your life through rewarding work.

My work has to make a positive difference in the world

I’ve worked in healthcare since I was a teenager. I have my grandmother to thank for that. She lived with us as I grew up, and she was always so nurturing and helpful. Then as she got older, she started to lose her eyesight and have mobility problems. When I was old enough to drive, I started helping to bring her to doctor’s appointments and errands. I started my first paying job in healthcare at age 17 and have been in the field for over 20 years.

My work has to challenge me in a way that helps me grow

I’m not someone who is content to learn how to do a job and then keep doing the same thing for decades. I want to continually learn new things.

Each time I found myself getting bored with a job, it was usually because there was nothing new for them to teach me. I don’t like to sit idle, so I would usually go to my supervisor and ask if there was anything else I could do to help.

I quickly learned that a lot of supervisors are control freaks. Instead of delegating and taking some of the stress off themselves, they would see offers for help as a threat. If I knew how to do the things they did, then I could take their job someday.

I never had any interest in being a manager or supervisor. I was always happy to mentor people, but I never wanted to be in charge. I just wanted something to do with my time so I wasn’t sitting around.

Having a manager that put me into a box and didn’t let me expand my knowledge was a manager I didn’t have for long. I usually started looking for another job soon after that.

I have to be fairly compensated for the work I do

I didn’t always believe this. Like many people, I used to be of the mindset that people who made a lot of money did it by stepping on the backs of other people. I wanted to make enough money to live, but not so much that I turned into “one of those greedy rich people.”

So I always took what I was offered when starting a new position. When I was given more responsibility, I accepted it even if it didn’t include an increase in pay. I thought I was being altruistic by giving away my time and knowledge for free.

Then a few years ago I trained with a really good budget negotiator while working for a non-profit. He helped me understand how important it is to receive the proper compensation for work performed. In non-profit healthcare, if something isn’t funded then it doesn’t happen. Thousands of people were depending upon me to make sure there was enough money to so they could help as many people as possible, so I needed to be really good at my job.

When I left that position to go work for another hospital, I felt confident in my skills and education. I knew I was doing important work and what I wanted to be paid for it. So I told my prospective boss how much I wanted to make AND that I would only accept the position if I could work remotely full-time. I also supplied her detailed data about why I was asking for more than they offered me.

Speaking up for myself effectively doubled my salary from my last job, plus I didn’t have any commuting expenses! I got to sit in my pajamas all day while working.

And I never once felt guilty for it. I knew I earned that income level and I did the work to keep it.

My work can’t be my whole life

I don’t mind working hard. But I don’t want my whole life to be about my job. I think it’s so strange that when people ask “What do you do for a living?” they only ever mean “How do you make money?” Yes, everyone needs to make money. But if you can’t find work that’s meaningful, you need to at least have time away from work to find meaning in the rest of your life.

If you can’t find meaning in your job…

I’m guessing you’re reading this post because you’re struggling with how you feel about your current job. If that’s the case, you have a few choices:

  1. Stay in the job, and stop expecting your job to bring purpose in your life. Consider it just a paycheck and find meaning elsewhere, through volunteer work or a hobby. If you remove (not lower) your expectations for your employer to provide you anything more than a means to pay the bills, it may take the stress off you and make you feel happier.

  2. Try to change how you feel about your job. Decide that for a limited amount of time, you will give 110% every day without any expectations. Don’t do it with the aim for praise, or expect anyone to treat you differently, either. Do it just because YOU want to do better. Instead of going in angry to be there and watching the clock until it’s time to leave, start fully engaging. Be nice to your co-workers and customers. Ask your boss what more you can do to help. Perform every aspect of your job duties carefully and thoughtfully, and with your full attention. Not while sneaking peeks at social media or texting your friends. After you’ve done this for a while, see if you feel any differently about working there. Is this a place you can stay? Can you keep up the positive attitude and the strong work ethic? Does it make you feel good enough that even if you never make more money or get any recognition for your work that you would still be willing to put in the effort?

  3. If you’ve tried both of these, or you just know in your heart that you can’t go on, then you have to make a change. You can do this either by finding a different job that’s more meaningful, or you can start your own business. Or, both! You can start a business on the side and then as you start making more money, you can move to part-time work.

In the end, I chose to leave my job and work for myself, so that I could have more freedom to decide how to spend my time and energy every day. This may not work for everyone, but I know in my heart that it’s right for me.

No matter which path you choose, there are 2 things you need to know. First, there are always other choices. They may not be easy choices, but it may be better to make things harder in the short-term so you can be happier later. Only you can decide that.

Second, your success in making any of your choices work will depend on both your attitude and your commitment to change. You have to want something enough to make it happen, and you have to be of the mind that you will keep at your plan until it comes to fruition.

If you want more minimalist tips about income, view my other posts here.


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