Live to work or work to live? How I put my career in perspective

I am a big believer that work can be a source of meaning, inspiration and purpose. It can be more than a paycheck and something that fulfills our soul…

…yet, I have also come to realize that it can be more complex and nuanced than just following your passion, your calling, or doing what you love. The internet is abound with blogs and articles that keep giving us these messages and for many of us who may have not fully realized that dream, we can feel as if we are failing and that so many others have figured it out (which may not always be true).

As a working mom who practices (and teaches) mindfulness to others, here’s what I have learned about finding meaning at work—

1. The journey must come before the destination.

What we see on someone’s LinkedIn profile, magazine cover, or Facebook page is often missing the back story. What went into that glowing résumé or profile? Sacrifice, tears, fears, doubts, and, undoubtedly, someone’s inner critic.

There are no short cuts to success.

Experimentation and tinkering are fun, yet scary, but the time will most likely come when you begin to look back rather than continue looking forward.

There is much more inner growth to be found if we can embrace our personal journey to fulfillment; if we can embrace the chaos and learn to sail with it instead of racing ahead to the end.

2. The idea of a career “destination” is fluid.

My friend and I were recently having a conversation about careers and she said something that struck a deep chord.

What if I never have all the answers? What if I get somewhere and realize that’s not what I want? What if I get the dream job only to realize that my boss left the company and the new one isn’t letting me bring my new ideas to fruition?”

There is no escape from the very real possibility that our dream job “destination” may be fleeting. That’s what makes it so important to live for the journey that our careers will take us on.

3. Work cannot solve everything.

What are our goals? For me, it’s about living a meaningful life with work being a part of it (not the other way around).

I may do a variety of things in a given week that feed different parts of my soul. Work doesn’t need to satisfy all parts of me at the same time.

In fact, many times having more than one career may be an optimal solution for some of us.

Although I may sometimes aspire for work to fuel all (or at least most) of my being, setting realistic expectations can be a huge relief.

4. A "career" can be different from "work."

We often used these terms interchangeably but they are not always the same.

For the purpose of this conversation, I’d say a career (or job) is an activity that you engage in as a form of vocation, for which you may be compensated with some form of payment.

But we do many different kinds of work in our lives—at a job, at home, or in our community.

I have to greatly thank Pamela Slim for introducing me to Body of Work, which, among other things, expresses the value of making connections among our diverse set of accomplishments.

5. Work and life can be integrated when we see the big picture.

Finding work that can be fulfilling and still integrate other core life values can be difficult, but it is incredibly important for sustained satisfaction and joy.

A rewarding job that includes a 3 hour commute with 2 young kids may be less appealing (for some) than a less fulfilling job that is 5 minutes away from home that allows more time for the kids and a home-cooked dinner every night.

When we look at a job in isolation, we don’t always see the whole picture.

6. Dreams change.

Individuals evolve. Our priorities and values change, our inner circle changes, and of course, the world around us changes.

These changes make it nearly impossible for our callings, passions, and purposes in life to stay the same.

This constant evolution is perfectly normal. Although we need some amount of focus and a few core tenets to concentrate on, their manifestation may not always be linear.

7. Social circles matter.

When trying to answer big career questions (that don’t always have one straightforward answer), a support system is key.

In addition to a positive circle of social support, there may still be a few around us who think we are crazy, undecided, unfocused, unhappy, and dissatisfied. They may do their best to continuously remind us of it.

The important thing is to face this criticism with a smile (even if it’s just a sarcastic emoji ☺), receive the feedback, and stay true to what’s important.

8. Excessive planning isn’t always the answer.

Spreadsheets, journals, therapists, and coaches can be part of the solution, but sometimes we have to surrender and trust that the universe has a plan.

As a coach once reminded me, “We are cooking a delicious stew in a crock-pot, adding the ingredients we think will add flavor. But, we aren’t sure what the dish is going to look and taste like!”

Sometimes, letting go of the final plan can lead to happy serendipity at work and at home.

9. Fulfilling work is a privilege.

Whether you are a SAHM, a full-time office mama, or somewhere in between, it is an incredible privilege to have the time to reflect and make choices that can make work and life more meaningful.

There are so many of us mothers who are in search of career or family fulfillment, still trying to find the optimal work/life balance, or simply struggling to put food on the table each day (either because of financial or time constraints).

Even if we are still looking for our groove, we must try not to lose sight of the many amazing gifts we have in this life. I know I won’t.

Neha is a grateful working mother, a sustainable MBA student, and a restorative yoga teacher. She integrates all of these roles on her blog, Mindful Living, and is passionate about helping people find tools to lead meaningful & mindful lives and sparking conversations at the intersection of personal fulfillment and global impact. Follow her on twitter @mandhanin.

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