Job satisfaction has almost nothing to do with money or job titles. Fulfillment and engagement come from having genuine sense of purpose: Feeling that what we do makes a difference in the lives of others, and in our own lives.

Most people know that.

Unfortunately, most people don't actively seek to add greater meaning to the work they do.

Turning the job they have into the job they want. Starting a business that serves both the needs of customers, as well as our own needs. Building teams that blend talents with individual goals and interests.

In short, determining -- and helping other people determine -- the question bestselling author Tom Rath answers in his great new book, Life's Great Question: How You Contribute to the World.

"What are the most meaningful contributions I can make?"

Tom is the author of books like StrengthsFinder 2.0 (Amazon's all-time top-selling non-fiction book), Wellbeing, Are You Fully Charged?, and my favorite until this one, Eat Move Sleep

Tom is so successful -- I'd be even more jealous if he wasn't such a nice guy -- that his next book could have been about anything. So: Why write a book about the power of contributing?

That's the first question I asked.

All your books take on a broadly applicable theme and provide concrete strategies and actions people can take to be more successful in that area. How did you arrive at focusing on we can contribute?

A central thread running through all of my work and thinking over the years is that the typical relationship between a person and her work is, basically, good for the organization and bad for the person.

To really oversimplify it, people get a lot of work done... but work doesn't get a lot done for the people doing it, especially in terms of improving their lives.

The more I've studied this, the more it's become clear that if you were to ask, "How can we create the largest cumulative well-being for people?" the answer is having a better experience through work.

I spent five or ten years running into walls trying to get organizations to care about improving their employees' well being.

Bottom line, individuals have to take ownership first. Because of this job, is my life better or worse off? If the answer is "worse" or even "neutral," you owe it to yourself to make it better.

Especially since your organization won't.

The problem is, most of us answer that question by looking at salary growth or career progression. 

That's why it's helpful to ask this question of your spouse, family, or friends: "Do you think I'm better off today because of the work I'm doing than I was two years ago?" 

In most cases, the people around you can sense a collective gain or loss better than you can. 

Also keep in mind raises and higher job titles are are important. But salary growth and fulfillment don't have to be mutually exclusive. 

You can change some of the things you do in your current job. You can work towards a different job in the organization. You can map out your career so you have a different role five or ten years from now.

Every job can be shaped, even if just in small ways. If, for example, you like to help people, there are always ways to do more of that, no matter what your role.

The process starts with shaping your current job, not just changing jobs.

Too many people randomly hop from job to job, bouncing around in hopes they'll eventually land on a job that's fulfilling. But then you're just wishing and hoping... instead of being intentional about what truly drives you.

Another key is to look at your life more holistically. Trying to create hard lines between work and life does more harm than good.

What matters is doing work that makes your life better, and crafting a life that positively influences your work. 

Which takes us back to the central theme of how we contribute.

The fun thing I found in researching this the book is that the more you can orient your efforts through your work towards the positive influence it has on other people, the more you can orient what you do towards the contribution it makes... the less stressed you get over internal stresses.

Looking outward makes a huge difference when you look inward: On your fulfillment, on your purpose, on the satisfaction you get from your work, how that impacts the way you feel about your life...

That leads to a point you make about successful teams. 

People frequently jump onto new teams. Yet the focus tends to be on what the team needs to achieve, not how they will achieve it together. Nine out of ten times a team gets together and they immediately start charting their own, independent directions.

What if you went around the room and had every person briefly say what drives them, what is important in their life, and how they want to contribute to the team? 

One might say, "I'm going to sell this project to the world." Another might say, "I'm going to make sure we do quality checks along the way." Another might say, "I'm going to make sure we stay close as a team and build good working relationships with each other."

Not just, "Here are my talents," but, "Here's how I can apply them to make a difference for all of us."

That outward focus, that understanding of how each person will contribute... that makes a huge difference in the team's outcome.

And in the fulfillment each person gets from being a part of the team.

In a way it's like what you say about motivation: Motivation is a process that takes place over time -- but we rarely see teams build and individual sense of purpose and a series of small, motivating, fulfilling successes into the way they work together.

But if you think about some of the best teams you worked on, that's why those experiences were so great. 

Because you felt you contributed to something bigger than yourself... and in a way that was fulfilling and meaningful to you.

The length of the book is misleading: At first glance it seems like a quick read, but it's filled with dozens of practical takeaways. From a message point of view, how does the accompanying website fit in?

Another meta learnings from the books I've worked on is that I'm not content just putting out a physical business book. With each book, I put together applications people can use to take the findings from the book and apply it to their own lives, their own teams, their own businesses, etc. 

Contribify takes readers through an open-ended series of questions about the big roles they play in their lives, their most influential life experiences, their natural strengths... helping them discover two or three of the areas where they have the greatest potential for making a positive influence in other people's lives.

The output is something I think of as a human version of a resume. It's hard to think of something more lifeless than a resume or a LinkedIn profile. (Laughs.) 

We give people a one-page "baseball card" that is a more personal, emotional version of who you are, why you do what you do, and what you want to do more of.

If you think about your lifetime, no one will say, "He had 1,000,000 LinkedIn followers." Or, "He was a bestselling author." Or, "He made X amount of money."

But they will say, "He was a great husband." "He was a great father." "He helped me when I needed a hand." "He made a difference in my career." "He made a difference in my life."

That's the goal of the book and the tool: Helping people evolve and grow and turn their work lives into something that provides joy and meaning.

In the workplace, we get so caught up in the current priorities and goals that we blow through the things that matter most.

And, oddly enough, would make accomplishing those priorities and goals even more likely.

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Published on: Feb 4, 2020
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