If I read one more article about "finding your passion" or "discovering your purpose" I'm going to scream. Then shake someone. Yell at them a bit. Then eat ice cream to soothe my jangled nerves.
You know the articles I'm talking about. Go-getting, chest-bumping, happy-clappy, tree-hugging, super-trite advice that might give you the warm fuzzies, but that nobody has ever gainfully applied.
So, in finding myself writing an article about giving yourself purpose at work, I can either add to the self-help mountain of bilge or I can offer something that might actually be of use.
I like the idea of being useful. It's part of my purpose here (so to speak). So, here are a handful of ways you can really give yourself purpose at work.
1. Dial Up the Texture of Experience
The rookie mistake with purpose is thinking that it needs to be one single thing with a big—even world-changing—impact.
Not a bit of it. Purpose can be found in the simple moments of life. Hold open a door for someone not because you ought to, but because you want to help out. Sincerely ask about a team member's day not because you're filling time waiting for the elevator, but because people fascinate you. Take a deep breath of fresh air not because you're stressed out, but because you love how it feels in your belly or chest.
Purpose is texture as much as it is impact, so choosing to dial up the texture of your everyday experience is really choosing to weave purpose through your life.
2. Know What Fuels You
Purpose without meaning isn't purpose. It's filler.
When you know what you value right down in your bones—the things that mean most to you in yourself, in others, and out there in the world—you're able to anchor any activity or behavior to a sense of something that genuinely matters, bringing your work alive with purpose.
If you value contribution, for example, find purpose by looking for ways you can contribute to a group, deliver over and above what a client expects, or give back to a local community. If you value laughter, be ready with a smile in your business relationships and always be generous with your humor. Or, if you value connection, openly connecting and sharing with the people around you will give you purpose.
These personal values aren't fluffy ideals or hollow promises; they're a hard-wired means to feel purposeful.
3. Leave a Room Better Than When You Found It
How many rooms are you in during a typical day at work? A couple? Four or five? Maybe as many as nine or 10?
Being in a room with other people is one of those things that happens every day, and you probably take it a little bit for granted. In you go, you do your thing, then you leave again. A bit like taking a shower, only with more clothes and less soap.
But look at it in a different, more purposeful way. What if you decided never to leave a room until you did something to contribute, make a difference, or leave it better than when you entered?
Whether it's offering your insight or expertise, complimenting someone on a job well done, or simply lending someone an ear, if you can find purpose in the next room you walk into, just imagine what kind of difference you can make throughout the next week, the next month, or the next year.
4. Consider a Simpler Legacy
The dictionary defines a legacy as a gift of property, by will. It’s a definition that got me thinking.
The way I see it, we know full well that we have one shot at life on this curious little planet, and we all want to do our best and leave a mark of some kind. Truth is, we're not all destined to leave a legacy like Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, or Mandela, and it's that seeking of a world-changing legacy that keeps us stuck as we dream about what our purpose might be and wonder just how our work fits in with that picture.
So simplify it. Take the weight out of it. Taking direction from the dictionary, look at your legacy as something you possess that you can gift to others, by your own free will. Time, consideration, skill, empathy, hospitality, experience—all of these things and more are things you can gift to others.
Generosity then, is a purpose you can get behind right now, today, this very moment, rather than waiting for an epiphany that may never come.
Purpose is a funny thing. Sometimes fleeting, sometimes invigorating, sometimes infuriating. But all it really comes down to, especially at work, is the choice to engage with all you've got rather than struggle with everything you're not.
Photo of stairs courtesy of Davide Ragusa.