Finding purpose and meaning in a life without drugs or alcohol is central to successful recovery. Purpose and meaning lead to fulfillment and authentic happiness, and people who are fulfilled and happy are far less likely to relapse than those who aren’t.

Fulfillment provides a number of benefits:1

  • Higher productivity
  • A bigger, stronger social network
  • Better immunity against illness
  • Healthier relationships
  • A longer life

Since you typically spend eight hours a day—one-third of your life—working at a job, finding a job that brings purpose and meaning to your life can improve your overall quality of life and help promote long-term recovery.

Here is a two-step guide to getting started on a career path that will bring fulfillment to your working life.

Step One: Decide What You Want to Do

According to Martin Seligman, a pioneer of positive psychology, fulfillment comes from identifying and using your strengths.2 Everyone has strengths, and when we use them daily, they contribute to a sense of happiness and purpose.

When you’re using your strengths, you enter a state of flow, which is characterized by losing a sense of time and being deeply and happily engaged in a task. The VIA Institute on Character has identified 24 character strengths in six areas:

  • Wisdom: creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning and perspective
  • Courage: bravery, honesty, perseverance and zest
  • Humanity: kindness, love and social intelligence
  • Justice: fairness, leadership and teamwork
  • Temperance: forgiveness, humility, prudence and self-regulation
  • Transcendence: appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humor and spirituality

The first part of deciding on a career path is to identify your strengths and choose a career that will draw on them. The second part is to choose a career that will bring purpose to your life and a sense that you’re making a contribution to society. Ask yourself:

  • What do I care about?
  • What were my interests before my addiction took hold?
  • What motivates me?
  • What gives me happiness?
  • Where would I like to be in one year or five years?

Step Two: Determine What You Need to Do and Set Goals

Once you decide what you’d like to do, figure out what you need to do to land a job in your field. This may involve creating and sending out resumes, going back to school or volunteering for an organization that you’d like to be a part of.

Setting goals is a major factor for getting where you want to go. Research shows that setting goals and writing them down dramatically improves your chances of achieving them. According to Harvard University, goal-setting increases motivation and fosters a sense of personal investment in achieving the goal.

The goals you set should encompass everything you need to do in order to get your foot in the door. Your goals should be SMART:

Specific: Goals should be specific rather than vague. Instead of “get a degree,” the goal should be to “get enrolled in the education program at the university.”

Measurable: You should be able to measure your progress in achieving the goal. Instead of “save money,” your goal should be to “save a hundred dollars a month.”

Action-oriented: Action-oriented goals require planning exactly what you need to do to achieve them. “Be happy” isn’t an action-oriented goal. “Try out new hobbies to find one that increases my level happiness” is.

Realistic: The goal has to be realistic if you’re going to achieve it. “Run a marathon next month” isn’t likely achievable if you haven’t been training. “Run a 5K in the spring” is likely far more realistic.

Time-bound: Setting a deadline for achieving the goal helps you stay motivated and on track.

Set both short-term and long-term goals. If your long-term goal is to get a degree in four years, your short-term goals may be to talk to an academic counselor, enroll in college and find financial aid.

Perseverance is Key

Writing down your career goals and looking at them every day will keep them fresh in your mind. Try to do one thing every day that brings you closer to reaching your goals. If you persevere, you will achieve it in time, and you’ll be on your way to a career that brings purpose, meaning, and fulfillment to your life.