Doing work that doesn’t feel meaningful can be a drain. You wake up, clock in, put in your hours, then clock out. Rinse, repeat. Although this sort of routine may feel dreary, you may still find yourself hanging onto it for the sake of maintaining consistency and predictability.
However, who says work necessarily has to be a struggle? Can your work be both financially rewarding and fulfilling?
One way to find work fulfillment is to achieve a state of flow. Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the original architects behind the concept, describes the state of flow as being completely absorbed with an activity where nothing else seems to matter.
Achieving flow state means matching a challenging task with a person whose high skill level is relevant to the task. For example, both musically inclined and mathematically inclined individuals would deem solving a scientific formula challenging. However, the latter would more likely be equipped with the interests and skills to solve the problem to tackle the challenge with positivity and enthusiasm.
Therefore, job fit plays a big role to being in flow. Knowing your strengths and interests can spell the difference between doing energy-generating and energy-depleting work.
FINDING ENERGY-GENERATING WORK
Many years ago, when I was a college student planning to eventually go to medical school, I spent one summer working as a fellow in a pharmacology lab doing cancer research. Working at an esteemed lab seemed like a good experience-building activity for my medical school applications.
My main task was to grow and maintain healthy cell cultures in a sterile environment. I spent most of my days monitoring microscopic cells on petri dishes and working with a lot of biochemistry equipment. While I was grateful for the experience, three thoughts persisted in my mind, which I later realized were signs that medical research wasn’t my cup of tea.
First, I wasn’t genuinely interested in the work. I was constantly bored and my mind would drift frequently, to the point where I was actually struggling to keep my eyes open most afternoons. Second, I was frankly not very good at the job. I made a lot of costly mistakes and ruined experiments. Even with time and additional experience, none of my results were coming out like they should have.
Lastly, and most importantly, I just didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t making the most of my strengths, and I definitely didn’t feel like my preference for engaging with people made me well-suited to spending my days examining bacteria and other microscopic material.
This resulted in me feeling physically and mentally depleted every single day. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I matriculated to medical school, that I understood how much of an impact energy-generating work can have on your professional satisfaction and entire life.
I ended up leaving medical school after only two weeks and later worked with a career counselor who helped me figure out that entrepreneurship, social engagement, and creativity were key to me feeling energized by my work. Eventually identifying what truly fueled me gave me the courage to stop pursuing a career in medicine, and many years later, to also leave my corporate marketing job behind to start my own business.
DOES YOUR WORK DEPLETE, OR ENERGIZE?
Plenty of people are in situations where they may not have the luxury of being particular about what job they have. Having any choice over the work you do to pay the bills is certainly a privilege. However, if you are fortunate enough to reconsider the direction of your career, the tasks related to your day job should ideally fill you with energy. Otherwise, work can absolutely sap the life from you.