Work. Unless you’re financially independent, or already retired, you likely spend most of your time at work. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business, hustle, and bustle of whatever it is that you do for a living. But when was the last time you sat down and thought about the larger purpose of what you do?
Work without meaning or purpose is empty and stressful. One day just bleeds into another, with no end in sight. Ever since I heard Paula Pant on her Afford Anything podcast talk about meaningful work requiring mastery, autonomy, and purpose I’ve been giving this topic some deeper thought.
You see, I’ve never thought of my job as just a job, even back when I was first starting out. That’s why I plan to continue working even after reaching Financial Independence (FI), and I still strive to do the best I can in my career. I even once gave a talk once to 30,000 people at my company on this topic, to help them see the deeper purpose of what they do and the impact it has on real peoples lives.
What does this mean, and how do you do it? Take a moment to sit back and think about what you do. Let’s take my job as an example.
- Immediate thought – I manage large IT projects for a large public company
OK, well that’s what I do on a daily basis. What does that entail?
- Planning, risk and issue management, communication, financial management, relationship building
That’s nice, but there’s no deeper meaning there. Essentially that’s a list of my daily “to do’s” but it’s not the deeper purpose of my work. So what is that?
- I enable complicated technology solutions to be delivered successfully
So that’s a little better-instead of looking at the list of my daily tasks, I can see the a larger picture of what I accomplish over a period of time. But that’s still not what I see as the deeper purpose of my work, it’s a pretty shallow description of what I feel that I do. So where do I go from here?
- Deep thought – I help make our customers lives better by providing new technology solutions they didn’t have before, and help make our company more efficient so we can help more customers
I ask myself the deeper questions on every project I work on. That makes me unique among IT project managers at my company-many are laser focused on the technical aspect, or on the project management tasks. But knowing and being able to talk about the deeper purpose helps me (and others on my team) to feel more motivated knowing that we’re working toward a greater goal. Whenever the daily tasks seem like too much I take a moment to think about the end goal of my work, and it helps to keep me motivated. It also helps in my relationships with the business, because I know and can talk about the deeper purpose of what they’re trying to accomplish with a specific project. Now I can also talk in depth about the project management tasks and technical details, so I don’t lose sight of those in the deeper meaning of what I do.
I can do this with any job. I decided to take some of the jobs types mentioned in a poll over at the Rockstar Finance forums (big thanks to Mrs. ETT for starting the poll) and see what kind of deeper meaning they may have:
- Arts – You may make peoples lives better by creating beautiful things (objects, music, other) that brighten their day or make them think
- Education – You help people learn, expand their minds and horizons, and mature beyond what they could do without you
- Technology – Like me, you improve the lives of people (either your customers or others working inside your company) through technology
- Science/Health – Depending on what you do here, maybe you perform research that will make the world a better place. Or perhaps you care for those that have something wrong with them, making a direct impact on their lives
- Finance – Helping people or companies with their money has a direct impact on them. Companies wouldn’t be able to run, pay their employees, or serve their customers without their financial team. And if you work with people, you probably see just how much of an impact you have on their financial situation
- Law – Perhaps you’re helping people in a bad situation. Or you’re helping a company to defend itself against baseless claims. Maybe you work in M&A, and you help companies to grow-meaning they can reach more people
- Entrepreneur – You probably see the impact of your work every day! The specifics vary depending on your business, but you’re making a direct impact on peoples lives
- Customer Service – You help people every day. Whether you’re a flight attendant helping people get where they need to be quickly and safely, or a retail worker helping keep shelves stocked so people can find what they need, or answering the phones to help people who need assistance, your work has some of the most direct impact on people
- Engineering – The specifics here would vary depending on the type of engineering (electrical, computer, chemical, mechanical, etc.), but no matter what type, your work is extremely important. Without electrical engineers there would be no safe power in our buildings. Without computer engineers there would be no technology, and I couldn’t be writing this blog post.
- Manufacturing/Construction – Your work helps create things – objects, buildings, something else – that people will use in some way. Whether you work on a component or the entire thing, your work is key. Without it, there would be no object for others to use
Take a moment today to give some deeper thought into the meaning of what you do. How are you helping people? What is the purpose of your job, your company, and how does it impact others? Even if you’re a stay at home parent or retired, the things you do every day have meaning. Give this some real thought, and use it to motivate you when things are stressful or seem overwhelming.
What’s the purpose in your work? What do you do, and what meaning does it have to you and to the larger world? Let me know in the comments.
P.S. It’s sad to me that when you do a Google Image search for “working women”, two of the top five images involve a woman in a suit holding a baby, and the third one shows her juggling with six arms. Just for fun, I searched “working men” and there’s no babies or harried-looking people in sight. Ugh! Come on Google, why does a working woman have to have a baby with her?