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Moving Toward Meaningful Work: How to Overcome the Overwhelm

by Rachel Eddins and Basak Yanar

Photo of man looking overwhelmed“There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.” These words, spoken by Ronald Reagan in his “State of the Union Address” in February 1985, were meant to shatter accepted notions of what is possible and ignite a new revolution of spirit.

Likewise, the pursuit of meaningful work commands a renewed sense of spirit and purpose. You approach it as a noble aim, envisioning a stress-free journey toward a worthy goal. You know, perhaps assume, that once you’ve figured out what you actually want to do — the perfect career field, occupational role, company, work assignment, business idea or job title — you’ll be able to follow a set of “concrete steps” that will power you to success. It will all come together if you just follow the plan.

More realistically, however, the path to meaningful work is littered with obstacles and obstructions. You hit bumps in the road. You get stuck. You procrastinate. You get overwhelmed. And, worst-case, you abandon your dreams.

How does this happen? You were excited when you had your “a-ha moment” about your new direction. Your new clarity was exhilarating. But now you’re distracted by household chores, family demands or (ugh) sitcoms — anything that diverts your attention. You make time for day-to-day demands, but not for your dreams.

Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Often, when we go into “action” mode, we stop thinking about what it was in the first place that inspired us. We zoom into the tasks that need to get done now. We get caught up in the details and the minutiae, and we lose sight of the values, desires, and passions that propelled us to do the important career work in the first place.

The holiday season amplifies this tendency. It’s easy to get caught up in multiple demands and obligations. You might think “Ugh, I have to bake all those darn cookies.” You dread it, but you do it anyway so you can check it off your to-do list. But you may miss the opportunity for a deeper connection. If you integrate the task with your deeper values, you may discover that “Baking cookies is a great way for my step-daughter and I to bond. I’m going to take some time out this weekend to make it a fun activity and create warm memories that we both can cherish.”

As in this example, you can keep yourself motivated by connecting your “whys” (a deeper connection) with your “whats” (baking cookies). The “whys” are your values, the things that matter most to you. The “whats” are your action steps, the small daily steps that move you forward. It’s your values that provide the stimulus to propel you toward meaningful work. They supply the power to fuel your commitment.

So ask yourself, “Why am I doing this small chore?” If your answer is “because I should,” then dig deeper. Find the value that connects it to your purpose. And if you dig into your “should” and discover it’s not really your value after all, discard it.

When you connect your “whys” with your “whats,” the anxiety often dissolves. If it doesn’t and you still find yourself stuck, then perhaps some deeper emotion is holding you back. The first step is to acknowledge your “stuckness.” If it is causing you discomfort, then explore it. Don’t avoid it.

To help you identify what is getting in your way, challenge yourself with a series of “what-if” questions. For example, if you’re making a big career transition, but find yourself overwhelmed with the responsibilities and tasks, start by asking:

What am I afraid of?
I’m afraid I can’t put enough time into this.

And what if you can’t?
It will take longer to get to my goal.

And what if it took you longer?
I will have to continue doing work that I don’t want to do.

And what if you continue doing the same work?
I will be losing the opportunity to do what I really want.

And what if you lost the opportunity?
I won’t be able to actualize my dream.

And what if you weren’t able to actualize?
I will be overcome with sadness, guilt and self-doubt.

In this example, the underlying emotions are the sadness, guilt and self-doubt that you would feel if you couldn’t achieve your career dreams.

We all have self-limiting beliefs that get in our way — fear, self-doubt, lack of confidence, to name a few, which can seem overwhelming. It takes courage to face your fears and continue anyway. However, if you push through with consistent action, one small step at a time, you will inevitably achieve the results you want. In fact, by reading this article you’ve already taken a small step toward your vision.

So now, what if you took another small step?

About the authors:

Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, MCC is an Certified MeaningfulCareers Affiliate. She and Basak Yanar, Ph.D. are the founders of “Courageous Move”, whose mission is to create career fulfillment from the inside out.

We recognize that it takes courage to face our fears and continue heading west, we even named our business “Courageous Move” to honor that courage.

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