This Simple Exercise Will Help You Find Meaningful Work


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Adam Smiley Poswolsky is the author of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, a guide for millennials to find meaningful work, and Instructor at General Assembly San Francisco. In this post, Smiley demonstrates a helpful exercise to find meaningful work by uncovering your unique gifts.

A lot of people spend years searching in vain for the “perfect job.” At the age of 30, having already had eight jobs since college, I’ve accepted the possibility that the perfect job might not exist for everyone, and that the perfect job at 22 is different than at the age of 30. I’ve realized that finding meaningful work is less about perfection and more about alignment: finding the right job for you.

Many people realize what’s meaningful to them by first discovering what isn’t. Two years ago I left a job working for the federal government because the job wasn’t the right fit for me. I was working for the U.S. Peace Corps in Washington, D.C., an incredible organization that is deeply aligned with my values. The problem was what I was doing every day was not in alignment with my gifts, the impact I wanted to make, or my desired quality of life.

I was spending most of my 9-to-5 (or more like 9-to-8) doing administrative tasks, impacting agency policies in Washington with little human interaction, and working unhealthy hours in a large government bureaucracy. I knew I wanted to be doing more writing and creative projects, spend more time working 1-on-1 with other people, and have a healthier work-life balance.

You can work at the most impact-driven social enterprise, an innovative non-profit or technology company that is changing the world—the place where your friends or your parents or your career counselor think you should work—but in the end, it’s all about whether the particular job itself and the work environment is a good fit for you.

If you’re looking for more meaningful work, a helpful exercise is to complete an Alignment venn diagram to see where your motivations overlap; which will help you uncover your unique gifts, the type of impact you want to make on others, and how you can make enough money to support the quality of life you desire.

1. List your unique GIFTS. Our gifts often indicate where we can provide value (and receive compensation). Include your natural talents, skills, and strengths, as well as your interests and your personality; what you’re good at (or want to be good at), and what you love to do, what makes you different from everyone else, what makes you you.

2. Ask yourself what type of IMPACT you want to have on others. Who do you want to help? Why do you want to help them? How do you want to help them? Do you need to have a face-to-face impact with the people you’re serving? Do you need to see the results of your work every single day?

3. Think about the QUALITY OF LIFE you want to have. What is your desired lifestyle? How much autonomy do you want to have over how you spend your days? What type of work environment or culture do you do your best work in? How much money do you need to live a lifestyle that works for you? Is work-life balance important to you? How about living close to family, friends, or someone you love?

No two people’s definitions of meaningful work are the same, and what’s “meaningful” changes as we grow older, learn new things, and meet new people. Your perfect job may not exist, but you can use your Alignment venn diagram to guide your search for work that allows you to share your unique gifts and make a positive impact in the lives of others.

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Sign-up for resources at and follow @whatsupsmiley. Thanks to fellow GA instructor and coach Peter Rubin for filling out his Alignment venn diagram.