Wholehearted Living Guidepost 9: Cultivating Meaningful Work

Many of us go through life making all of the “right” moves and decisions. We get good grades in high school and pick a promising field in university, which we hope will result in a job that pays well. We get out on the other end, have met all of our goals but are still unhappy. Why is that? The career and education that we thought would bring satisfaction often doesn’t, and we are left having to reevaluate and transform our goals. The expectation of how satisfying our career would be is often disconnected from the reality of the situation. This is a natural process and generally a necessary one if we want to pay the bills and provide for our families, but there is an element that is missing—a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

Developing our passions and what Dr. Brene Brown calls meaningful work is at the very core of living a wholehearted life. Through her research she has uncovered that we all have gifts and talents and that squandering these gifts brings distress to our lives. Furthermore, using these gifts and talents to create meaningful work takes time and commitment. Many of us have not embraced meaningful work in our lives because it does not fit with our career path or the expectations of others. Over the years, we have learned to push aside our passions due to criticisms and self doubt. “Self doubt undermines the process of finding our gifts and sharing them with the world” (Brown, 2010, p 115). The only way to uncover your passions is not by asking what the world wants/needs but “ask what makes you come alive, and go and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive” (Brown, 2010, p 117).

Meaningful work is unique. No one can define what meaningful work looks like for us as it is different for everyone. There is no cookie cutter formula that will help us to uncover what we will derive satisfaction and meaning from. The fact that it is different for each individual is what makes it so special and inspiring. Uncovering and developing meaningful work in our lives can have a profound impact on both our own lives and also our relationships. When we are more satisfied with ourselves and feel that we are following our passions, we are generally more content and our relationships benefit as a result.

Given that meaningful work is defined on an individual basis, here are some self discovery questions to help us uncover what our own meaningful work might be:

What are your gifts and talents?

When working with people I always ask them what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what they excel in. Some can easily rhyme off a list while others say that they don’t have any strengths or talents. In order to discover what our strengths are, we need to shift our thinking away from critiquing our negative traits and focusing on our weaknesses. We all have areas that we naturally excel in, abilities that come easily to us without having to strive; these are our talents and gifts. Just because these things come naturally to us doesn’t mean that we don’t need work to improve and sharpen our skills. It means that we are strong in an area and if/when we invest the time to develop our skillset, we can and will excel. What are your strengths, talents or gifts?

What are you most passionate about?

When spending time with clients, I find that some people know what they are passionate about, while others have completely lost touch and don’t even know where to start. We can allow busyness, children and self-doubt to get in the way of us pursing and cultivating our passions. It astounds me how much time we spend convincing ourselves that we are not good enough and are not going to excel in the things that we are passionate about. If we could spend even half of our self-doubting time entertaining the possibility that we can develop our passions and live a fulfilling and meaningful life, we would start to propel ourselves forward one step at a time. If you are unsure of your passions try and remember back to what you used to be passionate about as a child or a teen? What robbed you of that passion? Is it other people’s words or your own self-doubt? Try to rediscover some of those passions and see which ones bring a sense of meaning and fulfillment.

What would you spend your time doing even if you didn’t get paid?

This is another really helpful question when it comes to uncovering your passions and meaningful work. What would you spend your time doing even if you didn’t get paid to do it? I would spend time interacting with people and assisting them in their relationships because I truly believe that healthy relationships make the world a better place. When working with clients, I always suggest volunteering as a way to cultivate meaningful work and uncover our passions. There are endless possibilities when it comes to volunteering; one is bound to suit your interest. Do some research about the volunteer opportunities offered locally and get plugged in. Even if it does not directly overlap with your passions or talents, helping others will bring a sense of meaning and give us some perspective.

When starting to discover our passions and what meaningful work looks like for us, we can also examine the ways we express ourselves creatively as creativity is often a big piece to meaningful work. You can learn more about developing your creativity here.

Thank you for continuing on the journey to wholehearted living and connection with me. As always I would love to hear what meaningful work looks like for each of you, and how you discovered your passions and talents. I leave you with a couple of quotes about passions and letting go of self-doubt. Please come back next week when we will discuss the final guidepost “Cultivating Laughter, Song and Dance: Letting go of Being Cool and ‘Always in Control.’”

“I seek strength, not to be greater than other, but to fight my greatest enemy, the doubts within myself” – P.C. Cast

“Erase self-doubt by working to build your strengths instead of focusing on your weaknesses.” – Rodolfo Costa

“Don’t stop yourself from greatness before you’ve begun from fear or from self-doubt. You were put here on this planet to do great things, to pioneer change by way of your own personal uniqueness, and to express yourself and share your happiness with others.” – Kaiden Blake

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit” – E.E. Cummings

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” – Oprah Winfrey


Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to be and Embrace Who You Are. Centre City: MN, Hazelden