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Have you leaned in? In the bestseller, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” Sheryl Sandberg famously encouraged women to stretch their professional goals as well as their expectations. She wrote, “Women need to shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking, “I want to do that – and I’ll learn by doing it.”

How inspiring! But what happens if leaning in doesn’t pan out quite the way you hoped? Are you failing if your instincts tell you to change your mind? In the June series, The F Word, we’re talking about giving and receiving feedback.

We all want meaningful work, but according to research published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, “meaningful” is hard to define. After interviewing 135 people in ten different job fields, Catherine Bailey of the University of Sussex and Adrian Madden of the University of Greenwich reported:

“We expected to find that meaningfulness would be similar to other work-related attitudes, such as engagement or commitment…However, we found that…meaningfulness tended to be intensely personal and individual; it was often revealed to employees as they reflected on their work and its wider contribution to society in ways that mattered to them as individuals.

We also expected meaningfulness to be a relatively enduring state of mind experienced by individuals toward their work; instead, our interviewees talked of unplanned or unexpected moments during which they found their work deeply meaningful.”

Pete was excited to be promoted to Lead Accountant. It was a breakthrough moment in his career – he felt recognized for his consistent, quality work and he’d have a chance to supervise.

A year later, his former teammate, Lynn, saw Pete in the cafeteria line. “Hey – I noticed that your title changed in the address book.”

“Oh yeah,” Pete said, smiling. “That’s been coming for a while.”

“Is everything ok?” Lynn tenderly asked. “You seemed perfect for that job.”

Pete shrugged his shoulders. “When I took the leap into managing, I had no idea the bookkeepers were always squabbling over something. I’m good at powering through financial puzzles, not being a referee. The title and the extra cash were great, but I started to dread coming in.”

“A year ago I’d never thought I’d say this, but it didn’t work for me.” Pete sighed. “Although I was flattered to get the offer to manage, I finally convinced my team lead that I thrive as an individual contributor.”

Here’s how to lean in and step back as you personalize “meaningful”.

Find at least 3 things that you love. For instance, Pete discovered that he was more of a “maker” than a “manager.”

Then find 2 things where you want to course correct. Skip past any fault finding – it’s not necessary to pressure yourself to be good at everything. In “A Better Fit”, Dave realized he loved connecting with people, not diving into data.

This week, you’re the one giving the feedback. As your best coach, your greatest advocate, where can you confidently and honestly say, “Yes, more of this!” or “No, that’s not really for me.”

It’s up to you – where will you lean in or step back?