Purpose, Passion and Meaning
Let’s first consider what it means to find work with purpose and meaning.
The purpose of something is the reason why it is, or why it exists.
The level of meaning is the level of significance that something holds for you.
Passion is a belief in the meaning you hold in something.
If you don’t believe in the purpose and meaning of the work that you do, you are going to find it hard to find passion and excitement for that work. There are several reasons for this.
01 | The Growth Economy
The first reason it can be challenging to find meaning in your work is due to the model of the growth that we live with.
A growth economy requires ongoing, exponential growth, which in turn requires ongoing, exponential spending, by us, the consumers. For us to spend more, we need to earn more. For us to earn more, our employees need to sell more to generate more income to pay us. To sell more, businesses need to figure out ways of being more and more efficient, which in turn means employees are working harder for their money.
Let’s look at the issues that stem from this growth economy model in more detail.
02 | The Business Purpose
The second reason it can be challenging finding work with real meaning is due to the primary purpose that most businesses exist, and the values, or what is important in that process of meeting that purpose.
For a business to survive, it must generate income and profit.
For a business to grow, it must generate increasing income and profit.
If the primary purpose of the business is to constantly increase their growth, then the focus becomes on productivity and money above all else. Money must be a factor in the world we live in. A business that does not generate money and profit becomes unprofitable or a hobby.
So consider the primary purpose of the business you work for. Beneath the marketing “spin” and the published values and purpose statements, consider what the systems, actions and conversations within the company focus on.
Is the focus on creating great, ethical and sustainable products that add value and focus on the wellbeing of their customers, employees, and the planet?
OR, is the focus purely on productivity, profit reports, and quarterly sales increases.
If the underlying purpose of the business is ONLY to make money for the owners, shareholders and those at the top, it is going to be challenging to find meaning in the things that matter to you, that is not focussed purely on making a profit.
03 | Business Values (What’s Important?)
One step beyond the business purpose is business values.
A business can still have a focus on profit – it has to survive in the growth Economy.
However, the values, or what’s important in the process or way that they make this profit indicate whether the opportunity exists to find meaning and purpose in that work.
A business can publish their “values” on a website, but it is in the day-to-day operations, systems, actions and decisions, that the true values are revealed.
If a business cares about customer satisfaction, they will have processes that make it easy for customers to communicate with the business and the business to respond, rather than be fobbed off by calls on hold in foreign call centres.
If a business cares about ethical and sustainable manufacturing, this will be reflected in the quality and origins of the materials they source, their production processes, the treatment of workers in foreign countries, and the transport and non-plastic packaging they use.
If a business cares about employee wellbeing, there will be programs for health and fitness, a great lunch space to take a break, quality ergonomic furniture, lighting and equipment, flexible job-share options and discouragement of unpaid overtime.
If they say these things are important and valued but there are no day-to-day practices in place, it’s not important or valued to the business. And it’s hard to find meaning and purpose where things that matter to you don’t matter.
04 | Job Purpose
In addition to the overall business purpose, every job in a business has a purpose at two levels:
- Within the business; and
- Within the wider context of the community and the world.
The question is, why does your job exist?
Ultimately, you are being employed to add value to the business somewhere to generate more income. But depending on the business purpose and values, your particular job can be approached in one of two ways:
- Doing whatever it takes to make a profit; or
- Doing whatever it takes to provide great products and services (and a profit).
If the primary focus of the business is on profit, then the purpose of your job will be measured in quantifiable things like the number of sales, amount of sales, sick days off, level of productivity, and customer complaints.
If the primary purpose of the business is away from money and instead of making a more positive difference in the world, then the purpose and focus of your job, for both you and your employer will be more on qualitative things like creating better products and client solutions and outcomes, client or customer satisfaction, innovation, employee wellbeing, flexibility and variety, and incentives like employee bonuses, profit share or time in lieu.
This shift in focus away from ONLY money and profit will, in turn, allow you to find purpose and meaning in your work, and ultimately result in more inspiration and profit for the business.
05 | Their Expectations (+ Values)
Going into a job, it is important to understand the expectations, values and culture of your business and employer in terms of what is important to them, what they specifically expect from you, and how this is expected to get done.
This starts with what is written in a position description in terms of the activities and tasks you need to complete in your role, and the expected outcomes, as well as the softer cultural aspects of the environment.
Once employed, do they expect to own you and dictate your hours, and when and where you do your work. Or, will the culture provide you with freedom and flexibility to get the work done on your terms.
Is it important to foster a sociable culture, or are people just part of a production line? Does the business want you to care about the planet and the client, and your peers, regardless of what it takes – or is it all about the bottom line, regardless of what it takes?
Do you have the opportunity to speak up, invoke change, and add value and improvements and make a difference, or are you there to toe the company line and do what you’re told?
What may be presented publicly at face value is one thing, but the core of a business and what’s important, comes down to the expectations and culture within the day-to-day operations.
06 | Your Expectations (+ Values)
It is also important to identify, understand and manage your expectations and what you want from a job to find meaning and purpose in your work.
Do you want your work just to provide money to fund your lifestyle, and allow you to find meaning and purpose and passion elsewhere? Are you happy to arrive at 9 am and leave at 5 pm? If you do, that’s perfectly OK. Or, do you want your work to provide meaning and help you make a difference in the world, as well as contribute to your social life or hobbies?
Do you want to work in an innovative, inspired team of people who want to do great things and make improvements and changes? Or are you happy just complying with the systems that already exist?
Regardless of what works for you, it’s important to know what you expect from the job and the work you do in all aspects – how much time it takes, the type of environment, culture, the people, and the actual things you will be doing on a day-to-day basis, and HOW you want to do them – independently on your own, or in a prescribed way.
This is probably the hardest aspect to define, but once you know what you want and expect from a job, it’s going to be easier to know when you find it or don’t.
At the end of the day, to find meaning and purpose in your work, your work must be aligned with who you are and what’s important to you, and why you do the work and what you truly want from the experience.
To uncover this is a process of being honest with yourself about what is important to you, and not what just “should” be important because society or an employer tells you so.
Being able to identify your purpose for work, and values in the process, as well as the purpose and values of any potential business that you work for, will allow you to determine how well aligned they are.
There will be many businesses that focus only on the bottom line, and whose practices do not align with your truth.
The question then is will you choose to work for the money and the profit. And if you do, are you OK with this or do you feel like you are selling your soul?
Or, will you choose to look harder, and further afield, and hold out for work that can provide the purpose and meaning you crave, AND make a positive difference in the world?
It’s your choice.