Ask Yourself These 6 Questions to Find Your Purpose and Create Meaningful Work

/ Christine Andrukonis

While it is sometimes difficult to imagine the world pre-pandemic, close your eyes and try. Remember when summer was a time to pause, recharge, work a little less and step back from the grind? This year it may feel even slower, as the country struggles to find its footing. You, too, could be struggling, and perhaps beginning to question your career choice and your impact on the world. Are you happy? Do you feel motivated? Are you creating meaningful work?

Here are some prompts to help you identify your personal values so that as options begin to open up again, you can make sure your next move is aligned with your individual purpose.

Try answering these six questions—and action challenges!—to help you create meaningful work and gain the confidence, energy and motivation you need to keep growing. 

1: What have I enjoyed about this period?

Though we have all been through ups and downs during quarantine, not all days have been bad. Some lifestyle changes and new habits have been a much-needed change from your previous schedule. Analyze the types of shifts you’ve noticed in your professional and personal life, and take note of the ones that have made you happier, better balanced and more fulfilled.

Maybe you have enjoyed eating lunch with your spouse and children. Or, you have managed to squeeze in exercise more often, or even picked up meditation. It could be as simple as saying ‘no’ to unnecessary meetings, and realizing how vigilant you can be with your time. Whatever has brought you joy or made your life easier, write it down.

Take action challenge: Organize your calendar with time blocks that allow you to implement your favorite lifestyle changes long-term. If there are organizational and structural changes, you would like to see across the company, consider bringing up the topic with leadership. If you’re part of the executive team yourself, set up a brainstorming session so you can work together to keep the positives going post-pandemic.

2: What won’t I miss when activities resume?

Families with dual-income households look forward to the day when they aren’t juggling childcare, education and work demands 24/7. People who live alone are counting down the days until they return to social interaction within the office. Even the happiest of couples are excited for when they can see anyone but one another.

Remaining in a state of lockdown and navigating uncertainty and constant, back-to-back Zoom meetings has everyone on edge. Through this experience, you have likely realized that there are a few parts of your pre-COVID-19 life that you took for granted. Maybe it’s a quick ‘check-in’ coffee date with team members, the ability to use your commute as a time to read a book or article, or actually having a separation from your home life and your professional life.

Take action challenge: Keep a record of those areas within your current routine that you won’t miss to gain perspective. Then, see if there are ways to cut back on these things throughout the rest of 2020. Do you have the funds to hire an in-house nanny? Would your employer be open to covering some of the costs so you can be more productive? If you’re living by yourself, is there another single friend who would be open to renting an Airbnb for a month together? Can you recreate your coffee-check ins online, or schedule your calendar to include some focused personal time before and after work? These solutions can make the negatives more manageable.

3: How do I feel about my job right now?

Though many professionals log more hours than ever, having time away from the office grind has given many the chance to think about their contributions. And about their employers. Does your current gig allow you to create work that you care about? Do you feel challenged by your responsibilities? What are your biggest priorities? And, have they changed or crystallized during this time? If so, how might that inform your next career move?

Take action challenge: If you answer these questions honestly, and you realize you would like to explore new career opportunities you’ll need to create a game plan. This should include updating your resume and social media profiles (especially LinkedIn), reaching out to recruiters, and activating your network. You may also want to explore different job opportunities with your current employer.

4: How has my productivity changed during this time?

Regardless of whether you’re in an office or not, everyone has days when they feel on top of their work, and quickly check off every item on their to-do list. And then, there are days when everything feels like an uphill battle. Think about what you have learned about your productivity periods during this time. When do you feel the most energized? Have you set up different working regimens than you had before? Do you place even more value on heads-down time?

Take action challenge: For two full days, track your productivity and energy levels. Every hour, write down how you performed. If you were in one meeting after another, and then you felt so burnt out, you had to take a break before returning to your responsibilities, add that, too. The goal is to understand better when you create your most meaningful work, and when you are exhausted. This information can help you set essential boundaries that make you a better performer.

5: What relationships are most important to me? 

It may be cliché, but it’s true: we see everyone’s true colors during the dark times. Couples now understand how they can operate under the same roof for months on end without a break. Families have decided how to split up duties so both parents can contribute to their work and home roles. On the professional side, employees have witnessed their company’s ability to respond to crises, move quickly to adjust to changing business dynamics, and respond to employee needs with more compassion than ever before. All of these experiences have likely shown you which relationships are most important to you. Take the time to nurture these.

Take action challenge: On the left side of a piece of paper, write a list of the relationships in your life—professional and personal—that are most important to you. On the right side, write what you have done in the past month to invest in that person. Maybe it was an at-home dinner date, or a 1:1 catch-up call with a trusted mentor. Or you sent flowers to a colleague who was going through a difficult time. If you find you’ve fallen down on maintaining some of these connections, don’t fret – you now you have a to-do list, so you can get back to caring for the people who are most important to you.

6: Where do I want to be in a year?

These days, individuals and companies alike struggle to look more than a month ahead. And for good reason: the pandemic is continually changing, leaving everyone to react without warning. Though it may feel like unrealistic daydreaming, creating meaningful work starts with a vision. Let your imagination take over. Much can happen in a year, and by allowing yourself to think about your goals, you can start to work toward them.

Take action challenge: If you have old magazines lying around your home, cut out images and phrases that speak to your 2021 vision. Then, tape or paste them to a computer paper (or cardboard) and keep it in a spot where you can see it daily. This helps you to remain focused and positive during a chaotic time.