Purpose on Purpose: Thinking Small about Something Very Big

Purpose is one of the most important elements of work-life fulfillment. It’s a fundamental motivator for us to be successful and effective in our work, and also to be fulfilled and satisfied. It’s a big deal.

But what is purpose? It’s three things. First, it’s a sense of being connected to something bigger than ourselves. Second, it’s a feeling that our work matters to something bigger. Third, it’s a feeling that we’re connected to others. People want to build cathedrals, not just lay bricks. When we have a sense of purpose, it gives us greater meaning. It gives us a sense that our work is building toward a greater whole. The catch on purpose is that it must also be about others. While a good corporate citizen will do his or her best to contribute toward company goals of ‘15% annual growth’ or ‘becoming the industry leader’, these more objective, analytical outcomes won’t inspire deep motivation. Real meaning comes from an understanding of how our work and the mission of the organization serve people. We’re social beings, and work is fundamentally social. So the greatest fulfillment comes from clarity about how our work contributes to the community.

Companies and leaders have responsibilities regarding purpose: Based on this need for connection between our work and the broader community, vision and alignment are key. Leaders can contribute to a sense of purpose by sharing a clear vision – a bigger picture and a greater mission that are compelling and draw people in. Leaders must also communicate clearly about how individual roles and responsibilities ladder-up and contribute to that broader effort. This alignment and flow – from an individual’s work, to a team’s work, to a department’s work, to the company’s work and ultimately to the customer and community – speak to that need for a sense of purpose.

Leaders can contribute to a sense of purpose by sharing a clear vision – a bigger picture and a greater mission that are compelling and draw people in

Individuals also have responsibilities to find their best fit and tap into their personal purpose. But purpose is a heady topic and this can be overwhelming. Leadership guru Beuchner said we should seek work where ‘…our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ It’s about a fit between our interests, passions and abilities, and what the world needs. For some, it can still be a challenge to determine this fit. So here’s another way to think about purpose: figure out what you do really well, and what seems to matter to others, and do more of that. This is the elegance of simplicity.

Purpose also grows and shifts. It isn’t a static condition that we either have or we don’t. Individuals who feel the greatest sense of purpose and engagement are typically those who bring meaning to their work, and are continually mining for and creating meaning. They take ownership for generating purpose and renewing it for themselves regularly.

Individuals who feel the greatest sense of purpose and engagement are typically those who bring meaning to their work

In addition, purpose can be found in many places. We may experience varying levels of purpose through our paid work, but that feeling of making a difference and contributing to a broader whole can also come through volunteer work or community service. A feeling of fulfillment and contentment has many sources that we can tap.

Purpose on purpose is about organizations that provide alignment between the broader vision and the individual’s contribution, and it’s about people who are able to find fit through tapping into their talents continuously. It’s something that grows and shifts over time and can be found in many different pursuits. Sometimes the biggest, most important concepts – like purpose – are best understood in the form of elegance and simplicity. Finding purpose is doing what you do well, for the benefit of others on an ongoing basis. It’s a big deal, and it’s that simple.

 

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Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCR is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations, which focuses on work-life fulfillment. You can connect with Tracy @TracyBrower108 or www.tracybrower.com

  • “Those who bring meaning to their work, and are continually mining for and creating meaning. They take ownership for generating purpose and renewing it for themselves regularly.” This is a fantastic article, Tracy. Ownership is key.

    • Tracy

      Gee, thanks! And I couldn’t agree more. Ownership is such an important part of meaning and purpose, which is actually quite liberating since we never have to wait for meaning or purpose to be created for us. And I love your image of ‘mining’ for meaning as well. Sometimes it can come from our existing situations, not just new situations or different situations – thus a ‘mining’ kind of experience!

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