It’s Sunday afternoon and your mind is beginning to wander, thoughts of the week ahead start to seep in and a feeling of dread starts to wash over you.

“Another week, another exhausting, frustrating slog.”

For many of us, the Sunday night blues are real and our work, which was once fresh, new and exciting has turned sour – we’re left wondering ‘what happened?’.

Of course, there are likely many things each of us would change about our jobs if we could.  Alas, for most of us, we don’t have that power.  We’re stuck – in an imperfect job, in an imperfect world.

We can’t readily change our boss, our clients, our teammates, the corporate policies, the silly way ‘we’ve always done things around here’.  Short of quitting, our options to improve our experience at work are limited.

It might seem like we’re powerless to do anything that might make things better.  You might think that, and you’d be wrong.  What we can change is our own attitude, perspective, and behavior at work.

Easier said than done of course, which is why I believe developing your own ‘meaning statement’ is such great way to shift the way you’re thinking about and experiencing your work.

We’ve all heard about ‘mission statements’ – those pithy, grand strings of words that conjure the lofty goals of organizations and, the occasional overzealous coworker who has their sights set on the corner office.

A mission statement describes what one is going to do – it’s an aim, an ambition of the future, it describes intent.  By definition, it is a statement about a task or job that someone is given to do – not wholly inspiring.

A meaning statement describes why one is doing what they are – it’s an articulation of what is important and why, it captures purpose and value – it is inspirational by nature.

Mission statements have gotten a bad rap, and rightfully so.  They’re often a jumbled mess of buzzwords that carry no specific meaning, they overcomplicate and confuse.  They rally around some distant future, disregarding the present and why the work is important in the first place.

Mission statements are dead.  Ok, maybe not dead but they need some help (you could say the same for vision statements).

Let’s instead use meaning statements.  Let’s support the mission (and vision) with meaning.

Developing a meaning statement doesn’t have to be complicated.  I’ve found there are a few key characteristics that a good meaning statement should contain.

Use these tips to craft a meaning statement that brings purpose back into your work.

Your meaning statement…

  • Involves someone of something outside of yourself
  • Is usually oriented around being of service in some form
  • Includes a key verb, describing the action you are taking
  • Draws upon one or more of your personal values
  • Includes an emotional connection, and gives you a sense of purpose when you read it
  • Answers the question ‘why am I doing the work I am doing?’
  • Is realistic and specific

Here’s an example, my current meaning statement: “I enable the world’s workers in finding and doing meaningful and fulfilling work, so that we all may live more robust and sustainable lives.”

Once you have your meaning statement, keep it handy. Print it and post it on your desk, copy it onto the desktop of your computer, put it on the fridge at home – whatever to keep it top of mind and remind yourself of your work’s purpose.

When you’re feeling frustrated at work, read your meaning statement and see if you can reconnect with your work.  If you’ve been given an assignment you’re not happy about, see if you can find how the task connects to or enables your meaning statement – there will always be a connection if you look hard enough.

A meaning statement can also serve us in other helpful ways at work.

It can act as a lens for decision making.

It can be a platform for having a conversation with the boss about the type of work we’d like to do more of (or less of) and why.

It can be a rallying point for like-minded co-workers to get involved and collaborate.

It can inspire innovation and new approaches to the old ways of doing things.

And if you’re consistently having trouble finding meaning in your work, it can be a helpful antagonist that motivates you to search for work that carries more purpose.