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4 things you need to experience at work to stay sane

Recently I ran a (not so scientific) experiment with 30 agile practitioners during a Meetup I hosted. I polled everyone on what helps bring meaning into their work. Here’s the word cloud

meaning at work, word cloud
Word cloud on agile practitioner meaning making

I see four clusters in this map; I rephrased these as challenging questions for you to consider:

  1. Are you Growing, Improving, Thriving?

  2. Are you Learning, Educating or Creating?

  3. Is what you do producing Value, making an Impact or Helping someone in a real way?

  4. Do you feel Connected, part of a Community or Team?

My suggestion is that blocking time to ensure you experience some of each of the four areas is an important enabler of joy at work.

What is interesting is how making time for the areas shown above force us into trade-off conversations with our self (and those we work with); decisions about how to spend our time. A lot of the above four areas are in our control. With remote work we can feel more isolated, alone and disconnected (not feel like we are in a community), we also are unsure if our work has tangible outcomes.

When I coach people often they tell me of the challenges they have to find meaning in their work; a lot of the conversation then turns to re-prioritising to spend time on things that will get my client what they need to stay healthy. People get swamped with the expectations of others and fail to invest in themselves.; I don't want this for you; below are my coaching tips to encourage you to be brave enough to allocate some time into each of the four areas.

Potential issues on setting time aside for self
Potential issues on setting time aside for self

Growing, Improving, Thriving

Humans have an aversion to change; we seek stability. This is ironic because most people I work with want to become a better person tomorrow then they are today, serve others and have a greater impact in the world. Growth comes with inconvenience. Sitting on the couch after work having a few beers versus getting to a Meetup once per week is just one example of the decisions we make and how they affect our ability to grow. Growing is painful and takes an investment of time, energy and attention.

Learning, Educating or Creating?

If you are only investing in today’s activity how are you to reap rewards in the future? Think of three horizons of investment in yourself:

  1. Actively stopping behaviours and ideas that do not serve you anymore.

  2. Investing in current activities that help you get stuff done now.

  3. Investing in your self for the future; what you want to become.

I know we’re not a share portfolio ;-) but hopefully you get my metaphor. Investing in all three horizons ensures an even flow of growth and helps keep what you do meaningful.

Value, Impact, Helping

I recently quit a high-paying job with lots of industry credibility because I was not having an impact anymore. I was unable to help people and provide value to my clients. My role had become more about politics than getting things done; so I left. Cruising along, shuffling papers around or implementing agile processes is the same. Little value unless the people you’re enabling get value from your work. I spoke recently with a managing partner at a tier-one global consulting firm and he told that client impact is one of the key measures they look for in their consultants when debriefing an engagement. For a moment think about your impact.

Connect, Community, Team

Do you help others without an agenda? Do people in your team help ensure everyone succeeds together? If someone is struggling in your business area does a community swarm around the person and help them back up onto their feet? Such workplaces are community-led where helping each other is the norm. What is interesting is that this behaviour can start with you; help others unconditionally, then see what happens. Try it as an experiment. Being selfless is difficult in this dog-eat-dog world where everyone has an agenda, but trust me this is the secret to feeling part of something bigger than simply getting stuff done at work.


Running some experiments with what I’ve presented in this post is one way for your to learn and change how you view your day-to-day work; block off some time to do some activities that “are not like you”. Are you curious about the world? We used to be as children. Trying something different ensures you keep fresh experiences coming into your life. Give it a go for a week and I’m confident you’ll have a different perspective; from there who knows what might happen?

p.s. reach out if you'd like to hire me as your mentor; go here to book a free chat about your career :-)