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Researcher Tom Rath says we’re wired to contribute. And to do that, you must answer what Martin Luther King Jr. called life’s most persistent and urgent question: What are you doing for others?

“A growing body of evidence suggests that the single greatest driver of both achievement and well-being is understanding how your daily efforts enhance the lives of others,” Mr. Rath writes in his book Life’s Great Question.

“Scientists have determined that we human beings are innately other-directed, which they refer to as being ‘prosocial.’ According to top researchers who reviewed hundreds of studies on this subject, the defining features of a meaningful life are ‘connecting and contributing to something beyond the self.’”

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For Mr. Rath, work and contributing to others goes hand in hand. “Work can actually improve your health and well-being every day. Work can also be about doing something each day that improves your relationship with your family and friends,” he writes.

He urges you to create a life of contribution. Instead of finding your passion, find your greatest contribution. That doesn’t mean a massive career lurch. In most cases you can start by maximizing your contribution in your current job.

He gives that a practical flavour by outlining 12 contributions, broken into three categories: Create, relate and operate.

For create, the opportunities are:

  • Initiating: Team and group work depends on people who initiate efforts between people. “If you are motivated by connecting people with one another, you are one of the most valuable hubs of any social network,” he notes.
  • Challenging: Somebody needs to ask, “Are we doing the right things.” If you tend to challenge the status quo, you can help others grow more rapidly and the team accomplish more.
  • Teaching: Developing others is vital. To make good decisions, teams need people who can bring a great deal of information, objectivity and creativity to the table, helping sort through options.
  • Visioning: Almost every product, project and organization starts with a vision of what might be a better future. “Having someone on a team who helps everyone to see a larger picture or imagine a better future can be one of the ultimate catalysts for growth, hope and well-being,” he says.

Relate involves these four elements:

  • Connecting: This involves bringing people together in groups. It involves people skills, time, and energy. As an example, he asks you to think of a few new combinations of people you could bring together to achieve more as a team.
  • Energizing: This contribution brings joy to groups by inspiring and energizing others, helping people to laugh and reminding them why the work is valuable.
  • Perceiving: This involves perceiving what each person needs, creating bonds and finding commonality and consensus. Usually it requires a higher than average sensitivity.
  • Influencing: The ability to be persistent and persuasive, always on the lookout for new ideas, and influencing others.

The fours skills under operate are:

  • Organizing: Groups need someone to help things run smoothly, allowing expectations to be met.
  • Achieving: Groups need role models, showing how to live, work and do things well, helping the group to reach higher levels.
  • Adapting: Natural improvisers help groups adapt. “Life is created in the moment, and these small, often unscripted interactions have an outsized influence on our days and lives,” he writes.
  • Scaling: The ability to reach more and more people over time enables organizations to grow. This is often about finding smarter, more efficient ways to work.

Consider which skills allow you to best contribute, and how you can bring them to the groups you are involved in.

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Quick hits

  • Bobby Amirebrahimi, of Kaplan Test Prep, says in the book Working Remotely that if he wants something from somebody else, that’s the first thing he says in an e-mail, in the subject line – along with when he needs it. In the body of the e-mail, he explains why so there is no doubt.
  • Never ask in a job interview, “How quickly can I be promoted?” HR official Jodi R.R. Smith tells Fairy Godboss that suggests you are not all that interested in the role you are applying for. Instead, try, “Can you tell me about the typical career paths for this role?”
  • And before the interview, make sure you clean out your bag so you aren’t seen digging frantically through candy wrappers, phone chargers and old receipts when trying to find your résumé, advises The Muse site.
  • The most powerful one-word question in sales is: “Why?” Consultant Colleen Francis says it’s short, gets you out of a jam when you don’t understand what the prospect is saying, and heads straight to the other person’s issues.é
  • To avoid one or two lines being left alone on the top or bottom of a Microsoft Word page – technically known as widows or orphans – Allen Wyatt shares these four steps: Select your document with CTR+A; display the paragraph dialogue box by clicking the small icon at the bottom-right of the Paragraph group on the Home tab; display the Line and Page Breaks tab; and click on the widows and orphans check box.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

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