Living Your Calling When You’re Stuck in a Dead End Job

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4 min read

If you feel like you’re not living out your life calling in your current work situation, but you’re stuck there for financial or other reasons, you might consider using job crafting to get more of the job you want out of the job you’re at.

    We have the power to choose to see our role as significant and meaningful, or we can dismiss it as unimportant.

-Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark

Job crafting involves stretching the boundaries of how you go about your daily tasks and thinking differently about your role to maximize the aspects of the work that feel most meaningful.

Consider, for example, a hospital janitor. Sounds like a pretty unglamorous job, right? However, in a series of interviews conducted with hospital janitors, Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues actually found that these workers could be divided into two groups.

One group viewed their role in fairly narrow terms, seeing their work as an isolated set of duties (i.e., not connected to the broader mission of the hospital) that involved a low level of skill. As you can probably guess, these janitors didn’t derive a lot of meaning from their jobs.

Another group, however, saw their work quite differently. These hospital janitors saw themselves as an integral member of a team that aimed to improve the lives of patients and their families.

They focused on aspects of their jobs that gave them a sense of meaning and purpose, by interacting more with nurses, patients, and visitors. Their role was seen as vital to the entire operation. Not only were they there to sterilize the facility and prevent disease, these janitors also clocked in everyday so they could lift the spirits of people in pain who desperately needed support and encouragement.

So, how can you be more like this latter group of janitors and begin to use job crafting in your own work? Here’s 3 ways to start:

1. Task Crafting

Within nearly every job, there’s a list of essential duties that must be completed to perform successfully in the role. But beyond those duties, there’s often some flexibility. Workers may have freedom to choose how they spend the rest of their time or perhaps specialize in part of a task, so that it fits better with their interests and abilities.

As an exercise, try to think of ways you might be able to craft the tasks that you’re responsible for at your job. What’s your favorite part of the job? How can you make more of your job about that?

Consider how you could expand upon or revise your job description, but also keep in mind that task crafting works best when you bring supervisors and other team members into the process to avoid confusion and misunderstanding.

2. Relationship Crafting

Most jobs offer some opportunity to interact with other people, develop relationships, and assist in some way. And it turns out that if we’re able to focus on that aspect of our job and come to believe that we’re ‘helping others’ it can significantly increase the meaningfulness of the work.  

In one study, for example, university employees who tried each day to find new ways to help people experienced greater gains in work meaningfulness over time, compared to a group that was instructed to only look for such opportunities on one day of the week.

To begin relationship crafting in your own job, think of the people you interface with at work. What interactions are most rewarding for you? Who makes you feel most valued? Whether it’s with coworkers, clients, or customers, see if you can find ways to focus your efforts on the helping and supportive aspects of your job.  

3. Shifting Your Perceptions

Job crafting also has to do with shifting your own perspective. We have the power to choose to see our role as significant and meaningful, or we can dismiss it as unimportant.

So, choosing to see yourself as a ‘sandwich artist’ rather than just a sandwich maker, for instance, could make a big difference in the way you approach your work. If you find yourself diminishing your efforts and thinking negatively about your role, check out our article on ways to shift your perspective and free yourself from common thinking traps.  

The Bottom Line

Even when we feel stuck in a job, there are often opportunities for us to craft our own work, by (a) altering the scope of tasks or expanding one’s role, (b) focusing on ‘helping others,’ and (c) shifting our own perspective.

So, if you feel like your current job is stifling your personal calling, try out these strategies and let us know how it goes!  

 

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Sources:

Allan, B. A., Duffy, R. D., & Collisson, B. (2018). Helping others increases meaningful work: Evidence from three experiments. Journal of Counseling Psychology.

Lu, C. Q., Wang, H. J., Lu, J. J., Du, D. Y., & Bakker, A. B. (2014). Does work engagement increase person–job fit? The role of job crafting and job insecurity. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 84, 142-152.

Slemp, G. R., & Vella-Brodrick, D. A. (2014). Optimising employee mental health: The relationship between intrinsic need satisfaction, job crafting, and employee well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15, 957-977.

Tims, M., Bakker, A. B., & Derks, D. (2013). The impact of job crafting on job demands, job resources, and well-being. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18, 230-240.

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26, 179-201.

 

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