Four questions to help you build your sense of purpose. (Not all of these may be relevant, depending on your circumstances.)
Over and above making money, what is the purpose of my organisation? Increased meaning in work is associated with higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction and productivity and with lower absenteeism. Having a sense of purpose also makes us happier. Researchers have found that it is not only pleasant activities such as eating or watching TV that make us happy. Doing things which we find purposeful even if they are not always pleasant, such as volunteering, spending time with children and working, also contribute to our sense of wellbeing.
What is my team’s contribution to that overall purpose? Even if our team is a small cog in a much bigger wheel, it helps to feel relevant to the bigger purpose. Trying to make a vivid connection between our everyday work activities and that purpose can increase our motivation and productivity.
When I’m working at my best, what makes my work meaningful to me? How we see our purpose is also personal – we all value different things in the world and in our own contribution. We can find our own meaning by reflecting on what we personally think makes our work worthwhile. What do we see as the greater purpose of our work and the positive difference it makes in the world and how is our specific contribution linked to that purpose?
Despite the difficult year we’ve had, how have I learned and benefitted from my recent experiences? What about those times when work really does feel futile? Maybe a major project you have worked on for months is cancelled, your big presentation was a flop or customers don’t like the new product you have developed. The good news is that purpose and meaning is not only about the difference our work makes in the world, but also about the difference it makes to us as individuals. We find work purposeful if it helps us to understand ourselves, contributes to our personal growth and is part of a meaningful career. When things go wrong we can therefore reflect on what we have learnt from the experience and focus our attention on how we have developed skills and perspective.