Work: from successful to meaningful

Work is an important part of our lives and one of our most important sources of meaning. Work can give pleasure, satisfaction and a reason for getting up in the morning. Work can be a place where we are seen and appreciated, where we are part of a community. It also gives structure to our lives and it provides social security. No wonder that our main concern when coming to a new country – apart from the financial aspect – is to find a job. The first hurdle we encounter may be the incompatibility of our certificates with the specific requirements of the Dutch labour market, combined with the inevitable language barrier. Suitable positions for newcomers do not grow on trees and thus, many of us are happy to accept the first best job, which is often in an international or multinational company.

Working in an international environment may be attractive for a variety of reasons. It means meeting colleagues in similar circumstances and being exposed to cultural diversity. There are also drawbacks, however. Some big international companies are notorious for their so-called flexibilization and continuous reorganizations. 

Many companies use performance incentives, like bonusses, to keep the ‘talented people’ on board, thereby putting employees under pressure due to the emphasis on personal success, achievement and continuous competition. The emphasis on competition can trigger creativity to a certain extent, but at the same time it often goes at the expense of collaboration.

Sooner or later, such a performance culture is undermining our job satisfaction. We are increasingly expected to reach higher targets and to ‘manage’ our lives and careers. A discourse (a shared story about how the world works) has arisen, in which we always have to prove that we are successful, achieving the results that others expect from us. Once we have become very good at our job and achieve impressive results, we have to keep working, keep performing. Otherwise our boss will stop clapping.

Try to become aware when doing things just for the applause. At that moment success has become nothing more than an empty shell. While we may have started the work with enthusiasm – because we liked doing things, we now only chase success, and success in itself is meaningless. It's going to blow our mind at some point. We get depressed, we suffer from a burnout or we lead a life in which we are not really happy.

Rather than taking the performance culture for granted, important questions we may ask ourselves include: What gives me pleasure and satisfaction? What do I feel connected to? Which values are leading in my life? Do I thrive in a competitive environment, or do I prefer to work under less pressure? Hence, what company would I like to work for? And, last but not least: how can I engage in meaningful activities and be significant to others?

Would you like to react to this article, or would you rather meet in person? You are welcome to contact Janet Rodenburg, Career & Life coach at Casita Coaching! Visit her website for more information and send her an email at