When I reflect back on my career, I can vividly recall the moments when I felt most insignificant. I remember times when, no matter how busy I was, I felt like my contributions were entirely inconsequential. While I recognized opportunities for improvement and proposed solutions to challenges, despite my best efforts, my voice went unheard. Each day was a soul-crushing experience.
Throughout my years as a coach, I’ve talked with countless professionals at levels ranging from entry level to senior executive who question the significance of their roles. Regardless of their title, compensation, and other external attributes, they don’t feel that their work matters. It’s a devastating feeling that leads to decreases in confidence, motivation, productivity, and self-esteem.
Above all else, we as professionals want to feel like we’re making a meaningful contribution. High salaries, competitive benefits, good working conditions, etc. lose their value when a sense of purpose is missing. These are just some of the comments I hear regularly:
- “I want to make a difference in my organization.”
- “I want to feel like I’m adding value.”
- “I want to use my skills in a more meaningful way.”
- “I want to be recognized for all of the work I do.”
If any of these sound like you, try the following strategies:
Reconnect with your company’s mission
It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and forget the strategic purpose you serve. When you’re busy attending the same meetings, analyzing the same reports, or responding to the same questions, you can easily lose your connection to the bigger picture. Take a step back and ask yourself the following questions:
- Why does my position exist?
- How do my goals align with the goals of the larger organization?
- If my position were to be eliminated, what would the impact be on the group, as well as the company?
Engaging in this process will help you to strengthen the link between your work and the company’s mission.
Another way to reconnect to the mission is to ask questions. Instead of blindly tackling projects or half-heartedly engaging in meetings, inquire about the significance of what you’re doing. Make an effort to understand the reasons behind your work rather than accepting it purely at face value.
Recognize your contributions
Most of us tend to take our own strengths and contributions for granted. We recognize greatness in others but we don’t see ourselves as special. Without consciously acknowledging the many ways in which you add value, it’s difficult to feel as though your work matters.
Begin documenting your accomplishments on a weekly or monthly basis and you’ll likely be surprised by the many contributions you make to your organization. This is a great way to not only boost your sense of self-worth, but also prepare for future performance reviews, promotions, interviews, etc. It’s unlikely that anyone else is logging your successes. Take the initiative to track these yourself and you’ll begin to feel much better about your situation.
As much as we’d all love to have more consistent feedback, most managers are not in the habit of proactively providing it. They’re more likely to wait until a performance review or other formal opportunity than to offer it casually. To get the feedback you desire, you’ll likely need to ask for it.
Feedback on your performance is a great motivator. Positive feedback will boost your confidence and reinforce your value. And negative feedback, while tough to hear, will give you professional development areas to focus on, which will make you feel as though you’re investing in yourself and acting with purpose.
Maybe you’re in a rut and no matter what you do, you feel like your contributions are insignificant. That means it’s time to step up your game. Look for opportunities to stretch yourself while adding value in new ways.
- Are there cross-functional projects you can participate in to broaden your skill set and expand your visibility?
- Are there opportunities to mentor others on your areas of expertise?
- Are there responsibilities you can offload from your manager that will help him/her while offering you a greater challenge?
In a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment, you can’t wait for others to come to you. Make it a habit to always be on the lookout for opportunities to get more involved, take on additional responsibilities, and strengthen your skills.
Find a better fit
If you’ve tried all of these strategies and you still feel like your work doesn’t matter, it’s probably time for a change. That change could be an internal transfer to a new department with a new set of responsibilities, or it could be an entirely new role that allows you to apply your unique skills in a fundamentally different way. Before you embark on a career change, though, take some time to reflect on what you truly want.
- How can you maximize your skills to add the greatest value?
- What’s missing from your current role and where will you find it?
- What, specifically, do you need to do/have in order to feel the greatest sense of purpose?
If you’re feeling trapped in a role that has you questioning your value, you don’t have to live like that. Take action to reignite your sense of purpose and connection to your work.
Are there other strategies you would recommend?