Meaningful Work Through 6 Months of Small Skill Improvements
Instead of sacrificing meaning or 23% of your income, spend the next six months getting 23% better at your job, 1% at a time.
In 2017, BetterUp conducted a survey of 2,285 American workers and found that, on average, employees will give up 23% of their future lifetime earnings in exchange for meaningful work.
“This translates to an average sacrifice of $21,100 per year, every year, until retirement, in order to know that work would always feel meaningful.”
So, if you’re 30 today and we extend this out over a career that lasts until, say, age 67, this would mean nearly $800k, which is a pretty strong statement on how important meaningful work is.
Positioned this way it can seem like an unfavorable choice between potentially forgoing several hundred thousand dollars in earnings or enduring a purposeless career, but fortunately, in practice, we don’t have to accept either.
I propose that instead of sacrificing meaning or 23% of your income, you spend the next six months getting 23% better at your job, 1% at a time.
Being good at what you do is the best way to take charge of your career and makes up half the recipe for creating meaningful work. When you’re highly capable you also create options, so that if the other key ingredient (believing the impact of your work is positive) can’t be found in your current role, you can be assured of alternative opportunities to secure it.
Good at what you do + Believe the impact of your work to be positive = Meaning
A 1% improvement in a week is doable in virtually any area.
First, identify the skills most important in your job (let me clarify and say these aren’t the areas in which you think you most need to improve, but those have the strongest correlation to success in your role). Shoot for eight to ten, and then narrow down to five or less that stand above the rest. Maybe you’re already pretty good at some. Great! Now get a little bit better.
Take a look at each of the short-listed skills and brainstorm what a 1% improvement might look like. Hint: it’s small, and shouldn’t take a tremendous amount of time or effort.
Each week, choose an area to develop 1% and complete a specific and measurable action to that end.
An $11 Excel course from Udemy probably more than gets you there. So would a weekend writing or public speaking workshop, a process tutorial from an adept coworker, a new goal-setting or time-management system, a book on leadership, negotiation, mediation, or communication…
I’ll add a little wrinkle here, which is you might consider spending your first week or two working on ‘facilitator’ skills, meaning those that make it easier to develop the targeted ones. For instance, memory, organization, reading speed and comprehension, focus and mindfulness.
6 months gives you 26 weeks, so you have a little room for overages and/or breaks. Given the duration, an accountability partner might make the difference between sticking with it and fizzling.
Remember, though: significant career changes and drastic lifestyle adjustments are rarely easy or smooth, nor do they reliably solve the problem you might intend them to. Consider first bringing the focus in, and working on what’s directly within your sphere of influence.
Don’t lose sight of the power you have to increase the meaning of your work, right here, right now.
Dedicate yourself, for 6 months, to the task of creating meaning through improvement. It’s an incremental, completely feasible route with nothing but upside.