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Removing the Mask of Meaning (Because It’s Just Not That Scary)

By Mark Guterman and Dan King

Photo of woman removing maskFear. It can stop you dead in your tracks. And no more so than in the pursuit of meaningful work. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of making a wrong decision, fear of living a life of mediocrity. It can seem scary, but it’s definitely not fatal. On the contrary, fear can trigger actions to breathe new life into a dying career.

Sure, there are days in every job when you want to scream. But if your career has become an unending nightmare, you’d better shake yourself out of it, before you join the “living dead.” Some of them are likely amongst you already. Look around you.

Many people claim to want a more meaningful worklife, but don’t stand a ghost of a chance of actually achieving it. Because the prospect is so terrifying, they just succumb to the mind-numbing drudgery of their current jobs. As they say, “better the devil you know than the one you don’t.”

If you want to be freed from the chilling effects of your current work-death sentence, it won’t be easy — but you might ultimately survive to see success, satisfaction, and a deep sense of fulfillment.

To make your search for a happy and meaningful worklife less scary, take some steps into the darkness. Here are some tips and treats to get you started:

Face Your Fear. You don’t have to fall prey to disillusionment. The flip side of fear is desire. If you desire meaningful work more than you fear the unknown, you’ll already have one foot out of the grave. In other words, ignore the ghouls and focus on your goals.

Free the Ghosts of Your Past. Our early career choices are strongly influenced by our parents, teachers and friends. Sometimes we just do what others expect of us — and then die a slow death. This is not your daddy’s (or mummy’s) workplace — it’s yours. Let go of the haunting effects of approval from others. It’s okay to live your own life.

Explore the Unknown. Get beyond the skeleton of your career ideas. You don’t know what you don’t know. Dig up new resources. Otherwise you’ll just return to the known. What type of career change will be most meaningful to you? Clarify your values, examine your strengths, and stake out a direction before you leap.

Confer With Those Who Have Gone Before You. Talk with other people who have achieved meaningful careers. Find out what worked for them. If you stick only within your inner circle (co-workers, friends, family), you’ll mostly get spine-chilling reasons why you shouldn’t risk the change. Get some reality from “living” examples.

Avoid the Graveyard. Don’t dig yourself into another hole. You don’t have to seek out a final resting place. Meaningful careers are alive — they evolve and grow. Whatever you decide to do, your next step is not eternal. You can continue to change, maybe even find another career in another life.

Inscribe Your Own Tombstone. When the time comes, what will your legacy be? Will it be that “he labored long and hard at a job he hated?” Or “she stuck it out as long as she could?” If you want your tombstone to pay tribute to someone who set a positive example, made a difference and lived life to its fullest, then you better get started now, while there’s still time.

More enjoyable and rewarding work comes when the process of seeking it out is, itself, enjoyable and rewarding. If you bury this like just another task on your “to-do” list to get to someday, it won’t happen. You’ll always find reasons to delay it.

In the end, your work is a reflection of who you are. It reveals your values, skills and interests, and forms the lens through which people view your contribution to the world. What do you want them to see? A lifeless apparition — or a lively spirit?

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