How to Discover Your Lifework
Work can be one of the most satisfying and meaningful things you will ever do. Here's how to engage in lifework that makes your heart sing.
The term “lifework” has become synonymous with work that has value and meaning beyond just a paycheck. It is the kind of work you feel passionate about and draws upon your natural gifts and talents. Lifework is inherently enjoyable and for many, doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s about doing what you love. The following steps will help you envision what your lifework might look like.
Brainstorm: Sit down with pen and paper and begin jotting down any and all things you’ve ever even remotely considered as a career from the time you were a child to the present. Don’t censor anything, even if it seems silly or unrealistic. Yep, ballerina and astronaut stay on your list.
Analyze: Go over your list looking for any recurring patterns or themes. For example: team player, lone wolf, leader, helping/supportive role, relationship-oriented, task-oriented, creative, employee/self-employed, office setting, outdoors, company, organization, retail, using mind and body, specific profession/field, special interest or cause.
Connect the dots: Now that you have some pieces of the puzzle, a picture is starting to emerge. For example: working as part of a team for a non-profit whose mission is in alignment with your values or as an entrepreneur growing your own business from home or as a yoga instructor at your local senior center. Recurring patterns and themes often point toward potential career paths.
Dreams CAN come true: If becoming a geologist isn’t in the cards, working at a museum or as a staff member in the natural sciences department of a university might be an option. If Silicon Valley speaks to you, check out a career in computer technology. Too late for law school? Maybe not. Knowing your heart’s desire doesn’t require you to act upon it, but it can be incorporated into your lifework in ways that might not have seemed possible.
But what if the puzzle is still missing a few pieces? Don’t worry, this exercise lays the foundation for further exploration and inquiry. Career and personality assessments can provide additional information, often confirming what you already know about yourself.
Get the Facts: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a teacher, an interior designer or a paramedic? There’s only one way to find out. Go to the source. Conducting an informational interview allows you to speak directly with individuals who are employed in your field of interest, gather information and expand your network. While an in-person interview is preferable, it is often easier to conduct an interview over the phone.
Interview at least three individuals. Prepare your questions in advance and personalize it by asking why he or she chose their career, what a typical work-day looks like and what they like/dislike most about their job. If you establish a good rapport, you can take it one step further by asking to shadow them or requesting an internship. Volunteering is another way to give yourself a birds-eye-view of a prospective career.
Right Under Your Nose: You may already be doing your lifework and not even realize it. Sometimes we confuse the need for change with the need to reinvent the wheel. You may enjoy what you do, just not where, how or with whom you do it. If that’s the case, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Ask yourself, ‘if I could do this work in a different environment, under different circumstances, in a different way, would I want to continue doing it?’ If the answer is yes, don’t rule out the possibility of a makeover. Sometimes a few strategic tweaks are all that is needed to breathe new life into a stale career.