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Last updated 14 March, 2022

How to Build a Sense of Purpose at Work

Group of people working together at conference table in industrial style office space

Is your workday over before you know it, or do the minutes crawl by? Are you excited to tell others about your latest project, or is work the last thing you want to think about on the weekend?

No matter what your job is, when you have a sense of purpose guiding the work that you do it will feel worthwhile. If you feel dissatisfied, unmotivated or bored at work, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to change careers. It could just be that something within your work is lacking.

You may sense that, like a hamster on a wheel, the energy you put in at work isn’t actually moving you any closer to your goals. Or maybe you wish that your job allowed you to fulfil some greater good, or to be a part of something bigger than yourself. 

The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. If you lack a sense of purpose in the work that you do, all of those hours can feel wasted. No one wants to give their time and energy away to a cause that they care little about. Fortunately, there are several ways that a sense of purpose can be developed. 

What is purpose?

Purpose is a drive or an intention to achieve something personally meaningful. A sense of purpose at work can motivate you, shape your behaviour, inform your goals, give you a sense of direction, and make you happier. It is an energising force that propels you forward. 

Why purpose matters

Research has shown that having a sense of purpose in life is linked to better health and immunity, increased happiness and greater longevity. Furthermore, people with a strong sense of purpose at work report higher resilience, better health, and are more likely to want to stay with their company. 

What makes a purposeful career?

Maybe no one else can do the job quite like you. Or maybe you’re a part of an organisation that makes a positive difference in the world. In any case, a purposeful career is one in which you feel valuable and needed. Here are four elements that contribute to having a sense of purpose at work:

1. You’re good at it

You’re the expert. When things go awry, you’re the first person your teammates call. Whether you’re an artist or an engineer, you have a unique skill set, perspective, and method for approaching projects. Your talents and skills are regularly put to use and appreciated. Your boss trusts you to work self-sufficiently and knows that they can rely on you to deliver. 

2. You’re passionate about it

This is what is meant by the saying, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Your job might be the natural progression of an interest you’ve had since childhood. Or maybe it lets you research or champion a cause that has affected you personally.

You could eat, sleep and breathe the work that you do. You are always curious and always learning. Not only do you find the work enjoyable, but you may even have a sense that it’s your ‘calling.’

3. People need it

There is no job too big or too small to make a difference in the lives of others. The pandemic has shown us that whether someone is a doctor, a hairdresser, or a grocery store clerk, their skills and efforts are deeply needed by society.

Beyond what your company, product, or service does for the world; don’t overlook the sense of connection that others gain simply by interacting with you, and how impactful a positive interaction may be in the life of a co-worker, customer, or client.  

4. You’re compensated for it

And not just with a decent paycheck or fun perks like in-office foosball tables. Rather, you are recognised for the work that you do. Your efforts are awarded with opportunities for growth, positive feedback, public recognition, and support from your boss and your team.

Clients may give you glowing reviews or frequently refer their friends to you. Even if your job isn’t the most glamourous or exciting one, you feel seen and appreciated. 

When you have a strong sense of purpose in your job you will feel energised, enthusiastic, and deeply satisfied. As with any job, there will still be good days and bad, but you’ll be able to ride the waves with your long-term goals in mind.  

How to find purpose in your job

Unlock your full potential

Do you have any skills or talents that you feel are going to waste in your current role? If you know a second language, have an artistic flair, or something else that could be put to use at work, why not bring it up with your boss or your colleagues?

Even if something you excel at isn’t particularly useful in your current position, your skills may be highly valuable elsewhere. Perhaps it’s time for a change in roles or responsibilities?

Write down your personal goals

When we achieve our goals, we achieve fulfilment. Research has shown that writing down personal goals can help people to find purpose and feel fulfilled in life.

By writing down your personal goals, you’ll be able to see how your values and aims in life may line up with your career. How can your work, or even the way you approach your work, move you closer to meeting your personal goals?

Change your perspective 

Will you always be unhappy until your job title reads “pro surfer”? Or is it enough to have a career that gives you enough money and flexibility to go surfing every weekend?

If your job involves the thing that you are most passionate about in life, that’s wonderful, but it may not be necessary to lead a happy and fulfilling life. See if you can appreciate your career as something that helps you to learn and grow outside of your comfort zone while providing you with the resources you need to pursue your greatest passions outside of work. 

Mentor someone

Through mentoring someone, you will reflect on your own career path, what motivated you, what you’ve learned, contacts you’ve made, and which projects you’re most proud of. It might be just the thing you need to appreciate your job and all that you’ve accomplished in a new light.

Answering questions and learning more about the goals of someone who is just starting out may inspire you and give you a fresh new perspective. In any case, you’ll gain the satisfaction and sense of purpose that comes from helping someone else. 

Today’s action steps

  • Write down three long-term personal goals. 

  • Next, make a list of any skills, talents and passions that you do not currently get to apply at work but would like to. 

  • Write at least five things about your job that you enjoy. Do you get to help people? Do you learn a lot? Do you get to travel? 

  • Create one professional goal that is informed by the above information. This goal may be to:

1. Accomplish something at work that brings you closer to achieving a personal goal. Example: “Hit monthly sales targets to earn more money for a new car.”

2. Find ways of integrating more of your skills, talents and passions into your work. Example: “Ask my boss if there are opportunities for me to put my foreign language skills to use with our overseas clients.”

3. Do more of the aspects of your job that you love. Example: “Volunteer for opportunities to represent our company at community events.”

4. Practice gratitude for the opportunities your work provides you with. Example: “I’ll take one minute each morning to appreciate how amazing it is to be collaborating with some of the brightest minds in my field.”

Our world-class coaches on Hello Coach can help you discover your true purpose in your career.

Book a session now to get help finding your purpose.

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