How to find meaning in your work, even if it’s ‘just a job’

Mar 28, 2022 | Articles

Source: Fast Company
Author: Michelle S.—Zapier

Our jobs—what we do—hover heavily over our very existence. Before the pandemic, a lot of job advice was about pursuing your passion, as though our purpose in life must be defined by our job or hustling till we drop from exhaustion. Now, all I hear about is burnout and The Great Resignation. Either way, the conversation about our lives is always a conversation about our work.

Why do our jobs have to dominate so much of our life? What if there’s another way to look at work?

Maybe your job is just a job.

I like my job, but the job that I do doesn’t define who I am. As much fun as fussing over words can be, technical writing is not my passion. Given my past jumps across jobs and industries, it may not even be my career. And that’s okay.

It’s okay to think of your job as “just a job.” It’s still important to do it well, but there’s no harm in thinking of it the way the dictionary does:

  • “a regular remunerative position”;
  • “something that has to be done,” like grocery shopping or filling up your car’s gas tank;
  • or “something done for private advantage.”

That last one—private advantage—can range from the mundane (grocery money) to the fantastic (save up to retire early). The point is, a job is just a job: an exchange of your labor for your employer’s cold, hard cash. But it’s also something that you can use to your advantage to help you further your personal goals.

Use your job to learn new skills

If your work provides resources for learning and development, use them.

  • Learn skills that will increase your pay. My friend Liz got her master’s degree program fully reimbursed by the school where she teaches. She learned new skills and got a pay bump once she finished. Here at Zapier, employees have a budget we can use for conferences and continuing education. I’ve used mine to learn more about things like project management and content design. These skills will help me be better at my current job, yes, but they’ll also help me leverage a higher salary at whatever my next job is.
  • Learn skills for personal fulfillment. Another friend of mine, Nina, asked her employer to pay for her art classes. She’s an engineer-turned-designer, and she was able to make the case that art classes would improve her skill set. In the meantime, she got to do something that brought her joy.
  • Learn skills to switch roles. Have you ever been interested in another type of job? Find someone at work who has the role that you want, and reach out to them to learn more. Mika, a user experience researcher here at Zapier, started on our recruitment team. But she’d always been interested in user experience (UX) research, so she tried it out and eventually made the switch. Maybe you make that switch inside your current company, or maybe you shadow someone in your company and then apply for roles elsewhere.

Use your job for the benefits package

If your employer provides benefits, max them out as much as possible. Whatever form they take, you’ve earned them. If a store clerk was giving you $5 in change, would you refuse that?

Sometimes those benefits might not be flashy, but you can still use them to your advantage. Years ago, I had a second job as a restaurant hostess. It didn’t pay much, and it didn’t provide insurance, paid leave, or company-matched retirement contributions. But what it did offer was a meal for each shift that I worked. I earned a paycheck, saved money on food costs, and got to eat at a high-end restaurant. That was something I couldn’t afford on my own, so it was a great perk.

My coworker, Deb, just used her office setup budget to buy a fancy new Wi-Fi router. Her Zoom calls don’t lag anymore, and side benefit—her Netflix now streams like a beast. The point: make sure you know every benefit available to you, and make the most of it.

Use your job to build relationships

I know, I know. This sounds like a fairy tale ending. But when you spend 40 hours a week with other humans, you’re bound to develop some kind of relationship with one or more of them (hopefully positive ones?). You don’t have to be interested in becoming lifelong friends with your coworkers, but there’s at least value in networking with them.

I’ve shared resources with coworkers, learned from my peers about something I didn’t know but needed to, and found new jobs through old colleagues. I’ve even made lasting friendships through work. (Sorry, I had to wrap it up in the fairy tale ending after all.)

So yes, it’s okay to view your job as just a job—I do. But that doesn’t mean the paycheck is the only thing that’s valuable about it.

This article originally appeared in Zapier’s blog and is reprinted with permission.