Purpose and career happiness: Why it matters and how you can get there
Purpose: the reason for which something exists.
The human condition is one of constant striving; the constant striving towards the next big milestone to achieve something bigger, something of consequence, so that by the end we can look back and know: “It mattered. I mattered!”
This seeking for meaning is hardcoded into our DNA and as we have evolved into a society of deskbound creatures, far removed from seeing the actual impact of our activities, the potential for existential crisis is real.
Now, you might be thinking: ‘This doesn’t sound much like Happy Mondays…”
And you know what…? You’re right!
If you’re lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering what it’s all for and whether it’s all worth it, you should know, a) you’re not alone and b) you can fix this.
It is possible to have a sense of meaning and purpose, even in today’s tech-fueled world. And whilst a healthy home life is of course important, with most of us spending more than half of our lives at work, feeling fulfilled at work is vital.
Now, does that mean we should all be quitting our jobs to join an NGO and save turtles?
Finding purpose at work… What does that even mean?
First off, there is no standard definition for purposeful work. What you define as purposeful will be deeply personal and depend on why you do what you do, what you’re contributing to and the value you ascribe to this.
Let’s look at a few examples to make this more concrete:
If you’re a school teacher and you’re passing on knowledge to create the bright minds of the future and you feel this is a worthwhile enterprise, you will likely feel that your career has purpose.
On the other hand, if you’re an engineer and your company is building a new powerplant that will produce energy for villages that have never had access before, you may also feel purpose – or not, depending on what’s important to you.
Lastly, if you’re an accountant and you work at a company that is creating products to improve people’s lives, you may also feel that your career has purpose, depending on the value you ascribe to the role such products play in consumers’ lives.
Clearly for some jobs, meaning is more easily discerned than others. However, undoubtedly, it is possible to find purpose in most jobs and work environments.
Finding purpose through your work vs. giving purpose to your work
Broadly speaking, there are two ways through which you can find purpose in your career. The first is more obvious, namely finding purpose through your work, whereas the other may seem more abstract, namely giving purpose to your work. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
To find purpose through your work, you could take a leap of faith into roles where the direct impact you will make is your main motivator and clearly discernable. From NGOs to moving into the public sector or roles that involve coaching and teaching to joining innovative start-ups that are changing the world as we know it, depending on their interest, some of our clients have taken significant steps to embrace their purpose and change their status quo.
However, such radical change is not for everyone – and it’s not always necessary. It is possible to give your work purpose by introducing new elements that give you that satisfaction. This could include mentoring new starters or graduates, joining volunteer programs and other initiatives as set out by your company’s social responsibility policies, or creating your own initiatives.
The relationship between Purpose and Happiness
Whether you take that leap of faith or make incremental changes to your current job, will experiencing purpose at work guarantee Happy Mondays? Although there is a relationship between Purpose and Happiness, it is not the only dimension to consider.
Before you make a radical change, first really spend some time to understand what’s important to you and what you really care about. If you need help figuring this out, read our article 4 Exercises To Figure Out What Job You Really Want to get clear on your values and vision, and also look at your inner talents and practical needs, in terms of how well these align with your proposed enterprise.
Because let’s be honest: doing what you’re passionate about doesn't always pay your bills and not being able to pay your bills won't satisfy you in the end. So, you need to find something that covers all 4 areas, because we know from experience, that only when all criteria are met, will you be able to experience Happy Mondays.
Whether you change your life completely or whether you introduce purpose into your existing work, know that it takes courage, support and a strategy to realize your goals and make a change.
Whatever you do, we invite you to use our framework to understand what’s missing and what needs to change. Once you’re clear on this, see if you can address these gaps with your employer or whether you can find balance through extra activities like volunteering. If you feel you absolutely want to take that leap of faith and make a radical change, use such volunteering activities as a stepping stone to strategically work towards your next journey and test if it’s right for you.
Carefully evaluate the possibilities before jumping head long into a new career and be wise about your decision. Don’t waste this opportunity to find your Happy Mondays!