Work and Resilience: Meaning

Work and Resilience: Direction & Autonomy
June 1, 2022
Work and Resilience: Wrap Up
June 15, 2022

Work and Resilience: Meaning

This post is the fifth in a series on how your work, paid or unpaid, affects your resilience. Previous posts include: “Work and Resilience,” “Doable,” “Connections,” and ”Direction & Autonomy.”

Does your work provide a sense of meaning? 

Work that supports resilience is meaningful.  Feeling like your work matters, that it contributes to the larger world, increases your self-worth.  In a world of constant exposure to tragedy, it can be helpful to know you are making a difference in your own way. Work that aligns with your passion allows you to step away from day-to-day stresses to focus on the tasks at hand.

The labor and supply shortage have shown us just how important many jobs are – we need truck drivers and table servers, medical staff and factory workers, therapists and cooks. Being reminded that your work is meaningful through validation, small gestures, and positive feedback are essential.  The truth is that your work matters a lot.  You are contributing to your larger community which increases resilience all around. 


How does your job impact your larger community? 

Example: The part-time cook at a special needs childcare center was the unofficial glue at the center. She started everyone’s day with coffee and supportive comments. She contributed to the well-being of many children with creative meal ideas. One child, diagnosed with autism, wouldn’t eat any vegetables. She experimented with cooking vegetables to change the flavor or texture to gradually improve this child’s nutrition. 

In her small kitchen, in a small center, this cook made a difference to the staff and children. Her creative ideas were shared with parents and other professionals. Using her skills and passion she was one piece of a larger system that cared for children and families. In the face of daily news, we sometimes feel like only grand gestures matter. This is not true – every contribution toward the greater good matters. Finding meaning in how your contribution improves the whole increases your resilience.  


Does your work align with things you find most interesting? 

Example: A physical therapist is fascinated by how the body works and loves working out herself. She enjoys helping people find ways to improve their capabilities so that they can enjoy their lives.  

What fascinates and intrigues you? Some people love to bring order out of chaos and find enjoyment starting with a mess and ending with everything in its place. Our brains love to learn. This can come through reading/researching or through experimenting/tinkering until the problem is solved. Spending time doing work you are passionate about increases the sense of meaning in your life. 


Do you, and others, recognize the difference that you make? 

Example: A friend of mine remembers a staff person who encouraged her when she was a rebellious teen. This staff person identified her strengths and expected her to do her best. She couldn’t stand him and cussed him out. He did not change his tone, continuing to notice her strengths.  His words rang in her ears though and impacted her choices even after he was gone. She wonders if he knows the difference that he made. 

In so many jobs we don’t see the long-term impact of our work. I really appreciate the people who put the pieces of my car together so that it is safe and comfortable. I grow none of my own food – I am grateful for, and dependent on, everyone in the food industry.

Imagine how far the ripples of your work spread in this world. We are social creatures – hearing from others that you make a difference is so important. Specific feedback is most powerful, “When you did……, it impacted ….. which made a difference in this way…..”.  Sensing how you make a difference builds your sense of meaning.

One day in a store a young woman said, “Miss Laura!” which was how most of my child therapy clients addressed me. I had to look at her twice; the last time I saw her she was a teen – now she was a young mother out with her baby. I had worked with her family several years prior. She shared the difference I had made in their lives and how happy she was to see me. Moments like this reinforce the meaning of my work with others.  

Contributing to the world in a meaningful way builds resilience. How does your work add meaning to your life? Are you able to engage in tasks or learning that you feel passionate about? Do you, and others around you, recognize the difference that you make? I feel gratitude for all the people whose work impacts my life – artists and shop keepers, road crews and manufacturers, horticulturists and scientists, authors and roofers. The list is endless, the work is meaningful, together we create our communities.  

We will explore other topics in the next few posts. Be sure to sign up for our email here so that you receive the whole series. We will also be sending an invitation to join a live Zoom conversation about your insights.


Laura A. Gaines