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Why is having a purpose important for a job to have meaning?

May 06, 2021
Have you had any friends or family members reflect upon their career and declare they are tired of what they are doing? They want what they do to mean something? They are done selling widgets, done with the routine of work?

They yearn to do something that would be of greater value for society. I have caught myself having these thoughts. It takes the form of wishing I could invent something extraordinary or do something altruistic like end homelessness. These are big laudable ideas. They would have me feel worthy, important, admired. If I were able to be this magnanimous, I would then be important, my work would have meaning! However, inventing something or solving one of our world’s great social issues is impractical as my next career move as it requires more resources and skills than I currently have. Its more dream in the way that I think about it.

What if this desire to do something of meaning is really about me finding a way to be a contribution, to be of value? When I have reached a point of boredom or look at what I do cynically is when, typically, I am doing my job on auto pilot. At those times I see my work as a collection of tasks I needed to complete in order to keep my job and get paid. I think I could be easily replaced because there is nothing special for which I am adding to the process. Work thus is boring and my anxiety increases because I think I am expendable or what I do is no longer important in the grand scheme of things. The relief from the anxiety or boredom is to daydream about doing something better. Why not something with “purpose?”

Did you hear the angels singing when you read “purpose?” I do, probably from my Christian education that put value on sacrifice and contribution above earning a living. Those purposes which are talked about as requiring self-sacrifice do have societal and spiritual value. For some people, these would be appropriate as their life-long mission. For many like me, however, the definition of Purpose should be derived from what is uniquely me. What I bring to life. The problem or situation for which I am best suited. This is what should be sought and we all can define.

When I identify this special feature of me, I can then use it as my guide to recognize what I could change about my current position to make it more interesting and what I should seek when looking for the next opportunity. Satisfaction at work comes from getting to use this unique quality. The secret is this special feature will be what turns me on at work, at home, in my volunteer endeavors. It’s what I do best, and I enjoy.

Why is purpose important?

I spent my first 10 years at Fidelity learning the project manger job. It was exciting because I joined when the business group was only a year old. Each new client introduced something new and unexpected. There were opportunities to take on responsibilities that would not be available in a more mature business. It took me seven years to reach a level of mastery leading these projects due to their complexity and project length. I continued leading projects for another 13 years. My job responsibility changed with time.

I didn’t recognize what these changes meant to me. I was becoming more jaded, bored, and lost. In the final years I drove to work with a low-level dread. Gone were the days joyfully waking to go to the office wondering what unexpected thing would happen today. The career became a job. I felt my skills were too specialized to find in another company. I felt I had to stay since I didn’t want to take a pay cut or start over. I was the proverbial frog in the pot of water not noticing the temperature changing until it was too late to jump out.

My opportunity to get out came in the form of the company’s offer of an early retirement buyout because spending another five years doing what I was doing looked like agony.

Had I been in touch with my “purpose” through my time in this job I could have recognized what was happening. My opportunities to apply my purpose were naturally changing as the company grew. Knowing my “purpose” would help me to seek other opportunities where I could be valued again. Where I could love going to work. I would no longer feel I had to stay.

Three steps to discover your purpose.

For those of you who can relate to my story and are living your version of the same. How can you find your “purpose?” What is your special sauce? Your compass to find your way back to a life of greater meaning? Look to your past.

  • Think about three or four of your most challenging moments from your life regardless of the outcome. What happened and what did you do? What did you learn about yourself?
  • Recall three or four cherished memories from your youth. What in these brings a smile to you? Note details from these experiences.
  • What are three or four of your greatest accomplishments? What made these memorable and what did you do to cause these? Again, describe in detail. Who was involved, what did you do, the sounds, the smells, and what could you see?

Your purpose can be found within these memories and experiences. What is special about you, what you have to contribute, and ultimately one of the significant things you could do to enhance your life. It is possible. Reach out to me if you get stuck or if you want to discuss this further. It’s time for you to know your purpose!