The Secret to Finding Purpose in Your Everyday Work

Find Purpose in Every Day Work
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There’s trouble in paradise. The honeymoon is over. Recently something has been missing and though you try to be faithful, you can feel yourself straying.

You wonder if you’ve fallen out of love or if you were ever in love in the first place. You need something more—something on the side that brings a feeling of fulfillment.

Yep. You’re going to start volunteering.

Aaron Hurst recently wrote in his article for The New York Times, “Being ‘Good’ Isn’t the Only Way to Go,” that LinkedIn asked its members how many of them felt like they wanted to volunteer or serve on the board of a non-profit. Within eight months, one million LinkedIn members responded that they wanted to be involved in a volunteering project or with a non-profit.

Hurst suggests that this need desire to engage in pro bono work is due to a lack of purpose found in our day jobs. He quotes a professor at the University of Georgia, Jessica B. Rodell, who says, “When jobs are less meaningful, employees are more likely to increase volunteering to gain that desired sense of meaning.”

Having run the Taproot Foundation, a nonprofit that provides volunteer programs to professionals, Hurst knows firsthand that many people are disengaged with their everyday jobs. Many consultants and corporate partners find that pro bono projects give them a sense of satisfaction they don’t get from their regular work.

Hurst’s argument is that this same feeling of working with a purpose can be found in everyday work. All one needs to do is approach their job in a different way.

An article on LifeBuzz recently featured Mike Rowe’s response to a fan asking for life advice.

The fan wrote a letter to Rowe asking for advice on what type of job he should look into. In the letter, the fan explains that he’s had trouble finding the right job. He is looking for a job that will “always keep [him] happy, but can allow [him] to have a family and get some time to travel.” He explains that he’s bored a lot and could never have an office job.

Rowe’s response was that he should stop looking for the job he’s looking for.

Just as Hurst suggests in his post, Rowe seems to have the same belief that your job is what you make it. Having seen many happy workers doing the dirtiest of jobs, he explains in his response that “happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.”

He suggests that the fan stop looking for the job and instead take a job, any job. Then he should “show up early, stay late, and put as much into this job as possible.

Sheryl Sandberg points out in Lean In for Graduates that “your career—and your life—will have starts and stops, twists, and even U-turns. This is especially true in an economy where you may have to take the job you can get as opposed to the job you want. Focus on taking full advantage of any opportunity to develop your skills.” She’s right when she says that it may not be a job you love, but it will be something you can learn from. It’s up to you to choose what you get from each situation you’re in.

At one of her earliest jobs, Sandberg found a time when she wasn’t given much of anything to do. At first she would spend her time trying to “look busy” because she had no assignments. As you can guess, it didn’t feel like she had much purpose in her job at all. She could have chosen to blame it on the job and her superiors, thinking that the job was meaningless because the lack of management, but instead she decided to take matters into her own hands. She assigned projects to herself and tried to figure out tasks that would benefit her superiors. This changed how all her superiors saw her and soon she was having no trouble being given or finding work to do.

Sandberg, Hurst, and Rowe argue that we can find career happiness in non-dream jobs. Mari Kam thought the dream career she was looking for was in the restaurant business, but through internships, work-study programs, and a non-dream first job, she found that her “perfect” job lay elsewhere.

Now, I don’t think this applies to every situation. There are certain circumstances when a job is just plain wrong for you. But I think the point is that we can put too much focus on outside factors and forget that a lot of our satisfaction comes from our own perspective.

Just take a look at Gretchen Rubin’s happiness project. Sure she altered some parts of her life like making time for exercise each day, but a lot of her happiness had to do with changing her perspective. She could choose to feel angry when her husband needed to be reminded to do something or she could realize that though she had to remind him, he was still getting it done.

In Hurst’s post, he talks about the company Cornerstone Capital Group which has started to work toward increasing employee purpose. The chief executive, Erika Karp asks her employees about whether their days were good or bad. Then, she will have employees identify specific parts of the day that had made it good. After they’ve identified these “happy triggers,” she works with them to make small changes to their daily duties to increase these happy moments and give more meaning to their careers.

Your manager may not be as involved as Karp, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do the same exercise. If you enjoy communicating with people, take note and use the phone more than email. Or if you feel a lack of purpose, you can set goals and give yourself rewards when you reach them.

Tell us what you think! What is your opinion about finding purpose in your everyday job? Should job-seekers stop looking for their “dream jobs” and start looking at any job as an opportunity to do meaningful work? Is it possible for us to create meaning in any job we do?

Also, we were lucky enough to score an interview with Mike Rowe in which he shares more of his opinions on work and our generation.

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