If your work feels like a chore, it’s probably because it doesn’t give you a sense of purpose. That means you feel empty and dull. You probably view Monday as a day to dread.
This is typical for many workers. After all, when you first chose your career, ensuring it fulfilled your sense of purpose may have looked like a luxury you couldn’t afford. Other considerations like career progression, salary, status and working for a big-name firm may have seemed much more important.
Yet it’s not all bad when your work becomes an albatross around your neck. That’s because you’re hearing a message: you need to consider what you’re doing with your life and achieve a sense of purpose in your work.
The importance of a sense of purpose
The good news is that you don’t need to choose between doing work you enjoy and having your financial and career needs met.
You can have both.
In fact, you’re far more likely to get both once you have a sense of purpose. Because when you have that purpose driving you forward, you’ll build a career you’re passionate about.
Passion means you’ll be able to bring a bundle of energy, enthusiasm and buzz to your role. Not only with more (and better) ideas, but also bigger contributions overall that get you noticed by the right people. All this adds up to job satisfaction, fulfilment and rewards.
That’s why your sense of purpose is far more important than you might have imagined.
But how do you get that sense of purpose?
How to find your purpose
Part of the difficulty in finding your purpose in life is the concept itself – it can feel big and daunting.
But… there’s a less intimidating way to think about it and that’s in terms of doing work that’s important to you. When you do something that matters to you, you focus on it, lose track of time and simply enjoy it.
4 Clues to Finding Your Sense of Purpose
That means it’s important to know what you enjoy doing and what matters to you. Consider the following questions to help you dig deeper.
1. What did you enjoy when you were a kid?
You probably had something you loved to do when you were a child but have since given up. What was that thing for you? Does it give you any clues about what your sense of purpose might be? Why did you love it? What did you get from doing it that you didn’t get from any other interest or hobby? Even if your favourite hobby what playing games, don’t dismiss this as time-wasting. You enjoyed the game for a reason – what was it?
2. What are you doing when you lose track of time today?
When you get completely absorbed in what you’re doing – often to the point where you lose track of time and forget to eat or drink – what are you doing at that time? It doesn’t matter whether it’s a work task or a leisure activity. The point is that if you lose yourself in it, that’s a sign that you have an ability or passion you’re overlooking. What can you learn from your love of doing that thing? Why is it so all-consuming for you?
3. How would you like to change the world?
Another way to get a sense of purpose is to pick a global problem you care about and start working on it. It doesn’t matter if you can’t fix the whole problem on your own because you can still make an important contribution. What matters is that when you work on a problem that helps others, you’ll gain a huge sense of purpose whether it’s big and global or focused and local. It’s the act of working for the good of others that counts.
4. What would you really like to be doing with your time?
When Monday morning comes around and you dread the week ahead, ask yourself what you’d really like to be doing instead. That doesn’t include watching TV, sleeping and browsing social media. Think about where you’d rather be going and what you’d rather be doing. You might want to paint, study for a degree, learn a language, write a book, or invent a solution to plastic pollution. Or perhaps you’d rather be out meeting clients rather than being pinned to your desk going over financial reports. Whatever comes to you, write it down and consider what it means to you.
Of course, getting a sense of purpose is one thing, but relating it back to your job is something completely different. How do you translate your sense of purpose into finding meaningful work? The first step is to figure out what you want from work in the first place.
Figure out what you want from work
What you want from work is driven by your values. And the problem with your values is that they change throughout your life. They’re most likely to shift when your life changes, such as when you marry, have children, lose a parent, get injured or ill, and so on. Every big life events can mean your values change.
Changes in your role or industry can lead to the loss of your sense of purpose too. Perhaps you got promoted to area manager but you lose your sense of purpose because you end up analysing data rather than talking to customers, which is what you really enjoy.
You’re likely to have more than one value around work, but your highest values will have the biggest impact on your sense of purpose. That’s why it’s worth having an understanding of your values and what matters most to you.
- The easiest ways to discover your values is to ask yourself: ‘What do I value about work?’ Write down all your answers.
- Even when you think you’ve encompassed all your values, ask yourself, ‘What else do I value about work?’ Again, write down what comes to mind. Keep asking the question and writing until you start repeating yourself.
- Take a break. Make a cup of tea or get up and stretch then go back to your values and group together any that are similar.
- Create a list of your top 10 values and put them in order of importance.
- Check you’ve got your values in the right order by starting with your highest value (Value 1), and asking yourself whether your first value is truly more important than any other. If it’s less important than another value, put the new value at the top of the list and go through the same process.
- Make a new list of your top three values. If you struggle to limit yourself to three, choose five, but no more.
- Put your values somewhere you can see them and make a note in your diary to review them at least twice a year.
These are the values you need to satisfy to get a sense of purpose and fulfilment from your work. If you go through any big changes in your life or career, review your values. Once you notice yourself feeling dissatisfied at work, take note. That’s because feeling bored at work is a sure sign you’ve lost your sense of purpose.
Boredom at work
Feeling bored at work is one of the key signs your values have shifted and your work no longer satisfies you. When you’re bored, you lack energy and enthusiasm. Your work feels unimportant and you search for distractions so you can avoid doing it.
When you’re bored, you’re likely to:
- Spend time on personal projects at work.
- Feel under-challenged or under-stimulated by your work.
- Pretend to be busy when you’re not.
- Dread the start of your working week.
- Feel that every task is too much effort.
Yet even if you experience all this discomfort, you still might resist making a change in your work. That sounds contradictory, but it reflects an inner conflict around your values.
When you resist change, it’s because you fear losing something. And while you may have lost your sense of purpose at work because your values have shifted, you feel you can’t move on because of your underlying need for security.
For example, let’s say you value feeling challenged and excited and your role as a project manager met this need. But when you got promoted to department head, you were no longer involved with day-to-day project demands. Even though your new job is demanding, it doesn’t satisfy your need for innovation and problem-solving and eventually, you realise you’re bored. Your work no longer feels purposeful and you need to make a change.
But once you think about making that career switch, you also start thinking about all the benefits of the job you’ve got: a secure role with a high salary, a great employment contract, and a superb holiday allowance… and so on.
And yet… you’re still not happy.
This is what happens when your basic human needs and your values are in conflict. It’s very uncomfortable. You don’t like what you’ve got, but you can’t change it either. What’s worse, the longer this goes on, the harder it is to break free because you gradually lose your energy– and that makes your goals feel even further away.
There is a solution, though.
Moving toward a meaningful career
When you’re stuck in a job you’re not enjoying, your first step is to reassess what you want form work by reviewing your values. Unless your values are met by your job, you won’t feel fulfilled by it.
Follow these three steps to discover what you want from work:
- Begin by brainstorming what you value about work, then put those values in order of importance.
- Next, think about what you want to get from work. You can include a variety of things such as salary and social contact. Again, put the list in order of importance. This list will probably overlap with the first list quite substantially.
- Finally, analyse your job and work out how it meets your values and gives you what you want.
This exercise will help you identify any gaps between what you want and what you have. If the gap is in an area of high importance, you may need to consider changing your career. If the gap is smaller, you might find working for a different company will be enough.
Just one small step…
When you’re in a safe and in a comfortable routine, it’s hard to imagine having the energy to find your passion, let alone live a life driven by it.
But, here’s the thing…
You get passion and energy from taking action, not by sitting and thinking about taking action. In other words, you have to do something if you want to feel motivated. With that in mind, take at least one small step towards what you want each day.
Do reach out if you need help and support or invest in Sarah Berry´s New Book on Find Your Purpose and LIGHT up your Life.