There’s no shortage of advice telling us we need to find purpose in our jobs. And for good reason—having a sense of purpose at work can increase both engagement and fulfillment.
Yet while it’s been clear for some time that purpose is important, it’s less clear how to discover it without quitting our sometimes mundane jobs or making a drastic career change.
But there is hope for everyday people in everyday jobs to discover purpose and reap its benefits.
Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who do our society’s necessary and repetitive work—people like janitors, bus drivers, and mechanics.
And I’ve learned two critical lessons:
1.) There is a compelling purpose in every job, and 2.) There are research-backed actions we can take to uncover it.
Here’s how to start.
1. Stop trying to “find” your why.
One of the biggest misconceptions about purpose is that it’s something you can “find.” But you can’t lose your purpose like you lose a set of car keys. Purpose, by definition, is the reason for which something exists.
Your job already exists for a reason. That reason is to address some human problem or need and every job on the planet has a human being at its very end.
[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Your purpose at work is right where you are, waiting to be acknowledged:’ https://bit.ly/2vbbjhw via @ZachMercurio ” quote=”Your purpose at work, then, is not somewhere “out there” waiting to be found. It’s right where you are waiting to be acknowledged.”]
This reframe is important and will equip you to start enacting the practices below. It also allows you to be more mindful to uncover your purpose in your present situation.
In turn, this mindfulness will give you the skill to uncover purpose in every future situation.
2. Find ways to talk to the people your job impacts.
One of the most powerful ways to boost your sense of purpose is to find ways to talk to the people your job impacts.
In fact, research shows spending just five minutes with your job’s beneficiaries can quadruple your levels of motivation and performance.
If you’re in a job that is customer-facing, try spending more time with your customers in non-transactional settings.
Ask them questions like, “Why do you like doing business here?” Or, “How does what we do benefit your life?” The stories of your impact are often right in front of you.
This is especially important if you are in a solitary or non-customer-facing job. If this is the case, try bringing a beneficiary into the everyday work.
For example, bring a customer into your regular meetings and have them share how the product or service benefitted them. It is far more productive (and psychologically beneficial) than the typical update-filled meetings.
Or when you send out a survey to a recent customer, ask them higher-impact questions, like: “How did our work improve your life or business?”
When I talk to janitors, for example, they tell me that when they spend more time with the buildings’ occupants, they feel more meaning in their work.
By spending more time with the people you serve, you’ll learn more about the impact you already make.
And you’ll feel better because of it.
3. Be a story–collector and a storyteller.
Toward the end of a workshop I facilitated on purpose-driven work, a regional distribution center manager of a large electronics component supplier raised her hand.
“About a year ago, I figured out why I do my job,” she said. “I was diagnosed with cancer. As I was laying in the MRI machine I remember thinking, we distributed the widget in this machine. I realized my job had existed all this time to save my own life.’”
Before my eyes, I could see her colleagues becoming more engaged in their work. The energy in the room changed. People were smiling more and telling stories about their own experiences of feeling pride in their jobs.
The moment they heard their co-worker’s personal story, they finally got it. They weren’t just distribution center managers.
That is the power of telling the story of your impact. And when you can collect the stories from the people you serve, and tell stories of the impact you’ve made, you contribute to building a purposeful environment.
Try keeping a journal and write down positive customer stories or particular moments when you felt your job mattered. Return to the journal often and share your stories with others.
4. Write your purpose down and keep it visible.
When you write a goal down and look at it every day, research finds you’re more likely to achieve it.
The same is true with purpose. When we write down the human-centered purpose of our job and keep it visible it, it grounds us and can serve as a critical motivator in difficult times.
Take a moment and try to answer this question: “Outside of what you do, how you do it, or what you get for what you do—why does your job exist?”
The answer is your purpose.
You can also use the below format which helps keep the human being at the center of your purpose:
“My job exists to (action verb) (who?) to (think/feel/do what?).”
By stating your job’s purpose, you start acknowledging the purpose that was always there.