One thought has stayed with me throughout my career, only to become exacerbated during the pandemic. The dreaded: What am I doing with my life?
In summer 2020, The Wall Street Journal published an article about nonessential workers like me questioning the purpose of their jobs because of everything that was, and still is, going on. The gist being: People are looking for meaning in their daily work now that everything that matters in life has a definitive purpose. You’re either an essential worker or you’re not, and if you’re not… why aren’t you, again?
It’s tempting to let one’s thoughts spiral—and admittedly, in 2020, mine did, even though I currently write about gender equity and diversity, which is the definition of having a calling. That’s what a lockdown mindset will do to you.
But even when there isn’t a global health crisis, these thoughts are completely normal. In fact, of the 73 percent of women who want to change careers, 16 percent of them desire a career with a mission they believe in. There’s a high likelihood that most of your women friends, regardless of how successful you think they are, are wondering whether the grass is greener in some other industry.
That fact never fails to astonish me. It’s difficult to imagine so many women feeling unsettled and in need of a reason to get up for work every day (pandemic-related existential crises notwithstanding). But instead of contemplating your next career overhaul, which is worth exploring but takes time and research, let’s zero in on how you can find value in what you do right now—a tiny mindset shift that can make a big impact on your day-to-day happiness.
I used to write articles about travel in the American South, the history of MoonPies and small-town festivals. I even covered the Dirty Dancing Festival in Lake Lure, North Carolina, if you can believe a thing like that exists. These are topics anyone might deem “fluff” in the best of times, and more than once, I brushed off eye rolls and barbed comments related to my articles.
What you learn when you cover localities like I did is that there are dozens upon dozens of mini-communities to explore, and in every one, there are people working toward a shared cause. Sometimes, they’re teams of nurses at hospitals saving lives, which is cool, and other times they’re a small and tired staff hosting Dirty Dancing screenings and lake-lift competitions, which is, let’s be honest, also cool.
While my writeup about the latter wasn’t groundbreaking, it deserved to be treated with dignity because in the process of planning such a nonessential event, something essential always happened: culture. And culture, as anyone who lives and breathes can attest, is the ocean through which we swim, tread, and wade in every moment of every day. It takes a passionate, collective effort to get culture right.
I would never argue that putting on a festival in a small lake town is the same as eliminating toxic work environments and championing inclusion, but I do see the parallels, especially when I hear people say they can’t find meaning in their work or they don’t know how to make an impact. I firmly believe that even in the process of doing work that seems pointless, we’re all still working on something much bigger than ourselves, which is creating spaces and daily interactions that make people feel safe, seen, heard, and fulfilled.
Culture work isn’t the sole responsibility of diversity, equity, and inclusion consultants, nonprofits, or companies like mine. It’s not a volunteer gig—although, please, volunteer more. It’s every day. It’s hours of work and rework and testing and assessing and trying again. It’s reading a lot and listening more.
If you’re searching for a mission in your day-to-day work, then ask yourself this: How am I lifting others up—my coworkers, exceptional and overlooked talent—and what can I do to lower barriers that keep my team’s culture from evolving with the times and my organization from becoming the best company we can be?
Regardless of your title, that job is essential.
Plus, 4 other ways you can make a difference and find fulfillment through your work, according to women.
Becoming involved in culture-building isn't the only way to make a difference at work. Learn from women in a variety of roles and industries how you, too, can find and add value in what you do.
1. Acknowledge your power to change someone’s life.
“In talent acquisition, we’ve been given a special opportunity to positively impact the lives of people from all different walks of life. Whether we are connecting a recent graduate with their first job or helping a seasoned professional find their dream opportunity, there is no greater feeling than hearing that joy on the other end of the phone after making a job offer!” —Torri LaSmith, Talent Acquisition Specialist, Penn Interactive Ventures
“Having the chance to change employees’ lives and the ability to advocate for HR policies that can truly make a difference.” —Ang Xiu Ling, HR Generalist, eClerx
“Since I began at Radancy in July 2021, I’ve found I can make an impact in two ways. First, the work we do here changes lives. We make it easier for people to get hired. Therefore, my impact can be directly tied to the number of people who click “apply” on our clients’ career sites. Second, I can make a positive impact on the lives of my coworkers by doing my job well.” —Morgan Gallas, Content Marketer, Radancy
“Encourage others to make best purchases for quality sleep products and, thought the Malouf Foundation, to educate themselves of the signs of human sex trafficking.” —Jillian Loveday, Copywriter, Malouf
2. Discover your inner leader.
I get to act as a mentor and coach for the members of my team and share my experience and expertise with them to support them in building new skills, growing their own expertise and building their career path. I really enjoy 'paying forward' my years of experience in marketing, brand, and communications and helping others grow their knowledge and develop their careers. It is a very fulfilling part of my role that I take very seriously and see as a big part of my responsibilities.” —Virginie Faucon, Global Head of Marketing and CRM, INSHUR
“I help find the work our team wants to do and will be fulfilled by. I have never seen a female leader in the business development space so I'm excited to be that role model for others and work closely with a female CEO.” —Kelly Gebo, Associate Director, thoughtbot
“For my work, I am grateful to be able to work in a field that is still underrepresented by women. It gives me hope that women can see that they are able to pursue a career in technology and all the wonderful opportunities it presents.” —Madeline Neufeld, Business Intelligence Analyst, Radancy
3. Understand the bigger picture.
“The most fulfilling aspect of my role at Milhouse Charities is knowing that our reinvestment in the community through education, hands-on service and resources, and the intentional follow-through to nurture the growth is creating a legacy for the future of our underserved youth, their families and generations to come.” —Dawn Milhouse, Executive Director, Milhouse Engineering & Construction, Milhouse Charities
“I am proud to note that my work directly impacts millions of residents that now have the opportunity to utilize clean energy in their residential homes through massive solar farm developments. I ultimately contribute to lowering our carbon footprint daily throughout the world, which is quite an impact and a proud torch to pass on to the next generation.” —Jacquese M. White, Engineering Project Manager - Power, Milhouse Engineering & Construction
“The most fulfilling aspect about my role is that I get to help state and local government agencies in the United States stay at the cutting edge of technology and innovation, enabling them to effectively manage cryptocurrency risk in their jurisdictions. It’s rewarding to play a part in that mission, especially as cryptocurrency adoption continues to grow in the United States and globally. In using our tools and data, my clients are doing the hard work of protecting their constituents while facilitating responsible financial innovation and economic development in their jurisdictions.” —Kat Faley, Federal Account Executive, Chainalysis
“My work ensures responsible gaming is at the forefront of every conversation. The work I do puts checks and balances in place to ensure that all players are gaming safely and responsibly. Gambling addiction is real, however, having a strong culture of responsible gaming aims to reduce potential negative impact gambling can have on an individual's life and aims to assist players that need help.” —Alana Sacerdote, Responsible Gaming Program Manager, Penn Interactive Ventures
4. Spark joy.
“The most fulfilling part of my role is creating memories and experiences for people. Having the ability to create a moment that could stay with someone for a lifetime and be a permanent fixture in their memory—to bring them joy and happiness. Events are a power vehicle for connection and emotion!” —Maura McGlone, Events Manager, Penn Interactive Ventures