How to build a meaningful career (part 3): Every action counts

Posted on Sep 27, 2018

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What you’ll find in this series

This is part 3 in a three-part blog series on how you can build a more meaningful career by first refining your own definition of “meaningful,” and then living that definition.

In Part 1: Redefine success, I suggest a new way to define success. We explore the question, What do I want?

In Part 2: Know your values, I cover how you can identify and prioritize your values by asking, Who do I want to be? These values are what give your work meaning.

In Part 3: Every action counts (this post), I show you how being successful on these new terms is both far easier and feels way better than what you’ve been trying. We’ll consider, What feels good?

Start with the feeling

If you’ve read the earlier posts in this series, you’ve identified the values or feelings that describe who you want to be and how you want to feel. The way to cultivate more of the feelings you want in life is to start feeling the way you want to feel. Real change will follow.

Start feeling the way you want to feel. Real change will follow.

I’m not talking about something magical here. “Just visualize a Maserati, and it will appear in your driveway!” No, I’m talking about everyday common sense action and reaction.

Imagine, for instance, it’s time to go to your boss’s office for a performance review. Your boss is smart and interesting and kind and powerful, and you really want her to appreciate you.

First, imagine that you can’t stop thinking about how you desperately want her approval. You believe she doesn’t like you. She probably wishes you weren’t on the team at all. But, you think, if you could just get her to see how valuable you are… You shuffle into her intimidating office and take a seat stiffly in the chair across from her big, ominous desk. You muster the courage to make eye contact and fake a smile. Given the way you’ve shown up, how do you expect her to react?

Now, imagine instead that you believe you already have her approval. You trust that you’re one of her favorite employees, and she loves spending time with you. You strut into that welcoming office with your calm smile and have a seat. You flash her a genuine smile and hold your eye contact — this woman adores you, after all! How might she react to this version of you?

If you struggled at all to see a difference, imagine if you were the boss instead. Which of these two employees would make you feel more at ease? Who are you more willing to trust to own the big project that just landed in your inbox to delegate?

“External circumstances do not create feeling states. Feeling states create external circumstances.” – Martha Beck

This is why knowing and cultivating your desired feelings is soooo effective for building a meaningful career, and for finding satisfaction in any area of your life.

How do you measure your success?

In the first post in this series, I suggested you redefine success not by some external metric, but in terms of how you feel. Now, how do you measure your success against this ideal?

“You could be winning and feel like you’re losing because the scorecard you’re using is unfair.” – Tony Robbins

Say you want to feel healthy every day. Laying in bed at night reflecting on your day, you might be focused on what you didn’t accomplish. Where you didn’t live up to your own expectations. It sounds something like this.

Was I healthy today? Well, I didn’t go to the gym like I was supposed to this morning. I put ranch dressing on my salad at lunch, probably more than I needed to. I shouldn’t have used such a fattening dressing. What is wrong with me? Shoot, I just remembered. I had a pop AND two cupcakes at that retirement party this afternoon! I guess I’m just never going to be a healthy person.

Ick. I propose a different focus. Look at every time you did feel the way you wanted. With this mindset, your evening reflection might look like this.

When did I feel healthy today? Well, I woke up after 8 hours of sleep. That was awesome. On the car ride into work, I noticed I was holding my breath, so I took three deep breaths. It felt like a mini meditation, like I was taking care of both mind and body. For lunch I had a big lettuce salad with veggies and beans on top, so I got lots of vitamins and minerals. Just after lunch, I took a quick walk around the block with my coworker. Plus I drank loads of water throughout the day.

Notice how these two reflections could easily be the same exact day? Yet the second one feels better. And isn’t feeling good our ultimate goal?

The second scenario doesn’t just feel better. Setting up this more empowering scorecard actually leads to more of the behaviors that make you feel the way you want to feel.

Focusing on what you did accomplish will lead to more successful behaviors.

Brainstorm what feels good

Here’s an exercise to help you notice all the ways you are already cultivating your desired feeling, and to learn how to feel that way even more.

Writing tools in hand, for each of your 3 to 4 desired feelings, brainstorm as many answers as possible to this prompt: I feel (my desired feeling) every time I…

Brainstorm answers to this prompt: I feel (my desired feeling) every time I…

You might want to keep a daily log where you simply check a box if you can find at least one example from the day where you felt that feeling. This can be a fun and empowering way to visualize your transformation to becoming who you want to be.

Be wary of focusing on others

I define my success by how I feel. This definition makes me feel the way I want to more often, and it makes it easier to bring more of that feeling into my life. However, there are times when I’ve hit roadblocks with this method.

Through my work, I want to feel catalytic — I want to help people change their lives more quickly and easily. When I first wrote down “catalytic,” I had lots of ideas for how to help people, but most of it was only in my head. My trouble was that when I did put something out there, I focused on other people’s reactions and perceptions of me.

My trouble was that I focused on other people’s reactions and perceptions of me.

For example, I poured my heart into an Insta post inspired by my own change to start buying fresh flowers for my home, a desire I had ignored for years. I felt full of catalytic energy when I posted it, but then no one followed my instructions. No one commented to share how they brought more of what they desire into their home! I felt deflated and useless. In that instant, I doubted everything about myself. (Our minds can be so dramatic!)

Once I realized what was happening (with some help from one of my coaches!), I shifted my focus to the feeling state itself. I even reframed my desired feeling as “potentially catalytic” to remind myself of the insignificance of others’ reactions.

Shortly after this, I created a 17-page guide to help people transform their living space and their life. Then I started consistently sharing my wisdom through my newsletter, then social media. As I focused more and more on myself — on feeling the way I wanted to feel, I gained followers. I coached more people. I received praise, things like “I always feel so inspired after working with you!” and being called “a genuine gift!” So, people did react positively, but not until after I let go of my need for them to do so. And I’d like to believe that if they didn’t, that would have been ok by me too, because I still felt the way I wanted to feel!

It can be tempting and habitual to give your power away to others in this way. We subconsciously think, If it’s someone else’s fault I feel this way, then I don’t have to change anything. When you notice it happening, adjust your definition of success until it is fully within your control.

Make sure your definition of success is always fully within your control.

Additional reading