Many of us fall into our working lives without thinking much about what will engage us, but rather about what's available and what will finance our lives. We then carry on without really assessing whether we're doing something that holds meaning for us.
Author and career coach Frances Harre says: "People often think more about what they're wanting to do for Christmas than whether or not they're finding work fulfilling."
Frances and her husband Max Harre are releasing a book called Work Passion Power, Strategies for a working life you will love, that emphasises that what's most important for businesses and employees is engagement. Max and Frances say that finding meaning in your work is vital to engagement.
Max says: "Engagement is a really important mental health, social health, economic health and public health issue. It's important for all of us - when we're engaged we feel energised to give 100 per cent.
"If we consider how we use our discretionary attention, it's about how engaged we are.
"There's effectively a crisis of disengagement in the world. In New Zealand figures show three out of four employees are disengaged from work.
"So 24 per cent of people are engaged - and that's a serious issue for the company and the individual."
He says it couldn't be more important to love your work. If you do, you're curious about what you do and interested in strengthening your skills as the world of work changes.
Frances says: "I find that my work has to be really meaningful for me to be excited about life. We all need to feel useful and valued and have a sense of self worth.
"Work doesn't have to be a restriction: it's becoming more creative. People want flexibility and purpose. We're coming to an exciting era as the nature of work changes and it's important for people to prepare themselves for it, whatever their age."
Frances's background is in counselling, then she did a degree in the social sciences - after that she wasn't sure what she wanted to do. That's when she did post-graduate training in career development.
"It's wonderful to value the work of people, helping them gain more satisfaction and fulfilment. It's one of the richest things I have ever done. I just love it."
Max's background is in management. "We'll often work with companies who want to engage their workers in a better way."
Max says of the restrictions people put on themselves: "A lot of people allow themselves to be influenced by statistics, and ignore their own sense of agency. A lot of headline-catching stats are valuable and useful for people in policy development and politics, but they're not so useful for individuals at a practical level.
"Their own agency is related to their particular situation. They don't necessarily fit in the statistic."
Frances says, "Finding a new direction is a quite creative process - it's not about narrowing it down, it's about developing concept plans. What often restrains a person are the 'yes, buts' which are often just unchallenged assumptions that need to be worked through - look at the 'yes, buts' and separate that from the aspirations. "Get clear about the bigger picture possibility and then problem solve, critically look at the issues that are sticking areas."
She says: "We do also need to look at financial intelligence - how you are managing your money can make you feel stuck. I have seen that when people are looking at their aspirations and working towards that, they go less for compensating with material things.
"There are classic 'yes buts' such as salary. But what is the ideal level of income, 'what can I live on while I'm transitioning' is an important question."
She says people are often waiting until they get the confidence to get moving - but confidence comes from doing, not waiting.
"If you've looked at what you value, what you enjoy doing, and have talked to others and asked questions about yourself - all this helps to find the right thing.
"By putting the elements together you get a congruent, intrinsic sense of it feeling like you. It must be collaborative, not people telling you what to do."
She says, "There's always a unique niche that comes through - it's good also to do some so-called food tasting. Test things - see if they fit."
Max says, "It's amazing how many people try something new, fail and then drop the idea entirely. But progress depends on trying, reviewing then trying again. Better to think there's no such thing as failing, just need to review and adapt."
Frances says, "You're either in isolation or communication. It's important to be able to talk things through. We talk about micro-teaming. This could be getting a friend to meet with you regularly while you're building your project.
"This is a transitionary process - a transition takes time and takes persistence. Having a micro-team helps keep you on track. It's very powerful."
"A lot of Max and my work is teaching people to think for themselves about what's important for them and understand how to become career-intelligent. "
Max says, "The book title Work Passion Power says a lot - What's the context in thinking about work today, and what do I want to be working at. What do I really enjoy? That requires stepping out of the linear, logical way of thinking about work."
He says: "Importantly we need to ask "why", that's about the meaning and purpose of your work. That's about passion.
The How is about how to make it happen. Most people do have inklings of what they want to do.
"But the strategy to make it happen often is what's missing. You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you don't develop the ability to make them happen, that's an issue.
"Critical thinking is about being able to step back a bit and look at our assumptions. Say you're 50 and been made redundant, and you've heard that people over 50 find it a problem finding work. You need to ask: 'Does this really apply to me?'
Frances says that it's now a post-industrial age and we need to get away from a mechanistic mindset. "The millennials are trailblazing - they're a creative lot who are saying 'we want to be valued, we want flexibility with work that has meaning'. There's a definite shift going on."
Max points out that the shift is not just about millennials. "There are strategies that enable everyone in their search for more meaning. We need to have purpose in addition to the obvious salary factor."
"In terms of broader strategies, we need to take on asking the question: 'Why am I doing this work? What work matters to me?' It's not esoteric - it's about doing work that really matters and has meaning for you," says Max.
"The process is dynamic and ongoing," says Frances, "and it's good to remember that".