Find Meaning in Work: Change How You Think

Why is it that some extraordinarily well-paid people, working in pampered settings, feel empty, whereas others while working in the streets, feel fulfilled? Part of the answer is ‘purpose’ and for most people, purpose at work is built not found. Working with a sense of purpose, day-in and day-out, is an act of will that takes thoughtfulness and practice. So, how does one consciously endow their work with purpose?

Below listed are tips on how to consciously endow your work with purpose, regardless of your profession.

  • Connect work to service. While everyone may not handle situations of life and death at work, we each do serve someone by way of what we do. Teachers can see every day the young lives they are shaping — and visualize the lasting impact they may have on these lives they touch. Corporate accountants can connect themselves, mentally, to the larger work of their organization and take pride while finding purpose in the customers they help. Whom do you serve? Connecting our day-to-day jobs — consciously and concretely — to those whom we ultimately serve makes completing that work more purposeful.
  • Craft your work and make work a craft. Yale Professor Amy Wrzesniewski once did an in-depth study of hospital custodial staff, to determine what helped certain members of the custodial team excel. She uncovered a practice, among the happiest and most effective custodians, that she termed as ‘job crafting.’ These custodial workers, focused intensely on serving patients, and ‘created’ the work they wanted to do out of the work they’d been assigned. Something they found meaningful and worthwhile. They were pursuing excellence in the service to others and would adapt their jobs to suit that purpose. They enhanced their assigned work to be meaningful for themselves and for those they served.

In another words, this crafting was also a demonstration of treating work as craft — focusing on the skill needed to complete one’s work and dedicating oneself to perfecting those skills. This atmosphere of constant improvement in service of craft, fills professional pursuits with a greater purpose.

  • Invest in positive relationships. Who we work with is as important as what we do. While relationships necessarily (and appropriately) look different within the workplace than outside of it, they still matter. We’d all be served by identifying more ways to develop positive collegial relationships at work. Identify a newer or younger employee whom you’d like to empower, and offer to help them navigate your firm. Take the lead in scheduling an event that will allow you and your colleagues to know one another better. Simply take the time to reflect on a new colleague each day; trying to understand him or her and why you’re grateful to have the opportunity of working with them. Whatever your approach, efforts to enhance the positive relationships you have with others at work — often investing in serving them — can give work greater meaning.
  • Remember why you work. Most of us don’t have the luxury of working solely for fun. We may enjoy our jobs, but we also work to earn money and pay bills. For most of us, work in and of itself is a meaningful act of service. Parents often work hard to invest in their children; and those without kids often help support aging parents or other relatives. Those without families often use their resources to support organizations they love with in their community or their friends in times of need. It’s rare to find someone working with only their personal needs in mind.

 

Who are you working for? Identify that person or group of people. When the hours are difficult or the tasks are unglamorous, remember that your work is an act of service for those you care about in your personal life. Keeping this at the front of your mind will help you tie more purpose into your work, even when accomplishing the most tedious of tasks.

The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge-based management consulting firm in India, believes, that by utilizing the aforementioned steps, and by sticking to the right approach, almost any job can be meaningful. Purpose isn’t magic — it’s something we must consciously pursue and create.

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