For Millennials, meaningful work has become a mantra. Whether it’s social good companies, B Corps, or the not-for-profit sector, there’s a lot of talk about the quest for meaningful work. They want more out of life, more responsibility, more impact, more opportunity. But like most of the people who come to me for advice about what’s next, the vast majority cannot say what meaningful work means to them. People simply cannot say what they want.
And until you can do that, until you can say what getting more out of life means to you, not only won’t you know how to purposefully pursue it, you may not even know when it’s staring you in the face.
Part of the problem is there’s no blanket definition of meaningful work. What makes work meaningful is a highly individual proposition. What’s meaningful to me may not align at all with what’s meaningful to you. What people deem meaningful is deeply personal, reflecting individual goals, beliefs, and values.
But if your goal is to find meaningful work, or just your next thing, the first step is being able to say what that means to you. Getting there takes a lot of self-reflection and a clear understanding of what matters to you most in the world. It’s introspective, it’s emotional. It’s hard stuff. Sometimes, it’s painful stuff.
Saying what you want to be, what you want to accomplish with your life, exactly what getting more out of life means to you is not always an easy thing. But it’s an incredibly important thing. In fact, I believe it’s pretty much the thing.
So how do you learn to say what you want? Break it down into the simple Skills Values Passion (SVP) Exercise.
Start with a goal
First, relax. Setting a goal does not mean you have to define the rest of your life. But you can’t move forward until you have a clear idea of where you want to go.
Think about your goal for the next handful of years. Be concrete but with broad strokes. You don’t need to define it in terms of title or a specific employer. Maybe it’s about being the guy, or maybe it’s about being the guy who makes the guy great. Think vision, not precision.
Your goals are waypoints that shift over time. As you reach your goal, celebrate. Then look to the next metric on your personal horizon.
Identify your five exceptional skills
With a goal in mind, it’s time to assess what you bring to the table today. In the context of your job, how do you stand out? What makes you different, better, special among your peers?
Think about what people say about you at work and the highlights of your performance reviews. Be honest. This isn’t about who you want to be, it’s about who you are. Focus on your unique strengths. To spur your thinking, look to the internet for lists of workplace skills and see where yours fit.
Once your list is complete, share it with someone who is close to you and who will be honest with you. How you are perceived is important. If your assessment of your skills doesn’t match how others see you, then you have a problem.
Like your goals, your skills will shift and grow over the years.
Recognize your four core values
The truth of who you are may have no stronger measure than the things you value. Your values shape who you are and can guide your journey toward a fulfilling life.
Your values represent the things in your life that are most important to you, whether you are consciously aware of them or not. They influence your decision-making at a practical, day-to-day level. Your values determine not what you say you will do, but the actions that follow your words. Again, an internet search of values can help spur your thinking.
As you write down your list of values, also write what each means in your life. For many people, family is a value, but your personal life situation will determine exactly what that means to you. It may impact where you want to live, the salary you require, or even the time commitment you are willing to make to your career. All of that is crucial to recognizing how your values shape your life.
Unlike goals and skills, your values are a part of you that doesn’t tend to change much over time.
Embrace your one true passion
If values embody everything around you in your life, passion is what exists deep inside you. It defines your path to happiness and conveys the truest manifestation of your personal essence.
We all have one passion. If yours is hard to put into words, think about what makes your heart rate go up? What makes you talk faster and maybe a bit louder? What is it that lights you up? Consider your answers and look for the thread that connects them. There, you’ll find your passion, maybe for creating something new, motivating people, or inspiring change.
Your most individually differentiating features are likely seen in the passion you bring to life. It’s what makes you interesting to others, and as such may well drive your success, even if it doesn’t directly tie to your career. Your passion will draw other passionate people to you.
Use the SVP Exercise as a tool for self-reflection. Deeply understanding your skills, values, and passion is essential to telling your story in a way that empowers you to move forward. Finding your truth is the first step toward saying what you want. Because when you can tell your story, when you become the storyteller of your own life, people won’t just hear you; people will listen.
In 2016, it’s time for you to make people listen.