How to Find More Meaning and Purpose in the Job You Already Have

We often think ‘purpose’ is reserved for nurses, teachers, or the people curing cancer.  Of course, those roles are often inherently noble, but they’re not the only people who make a difference.  People in construction, accounting, tech, manufacturing, and all of the other ‘normal jobs’ are making our world go round.

Unfortunately, as humans we frequently underestimate our impact, we lose sight of our ripple effect.  When facing an overflowing inbox, our work goes from something that matters to other people, and makes a difference, into nothing more than a very long to-do list. It happens even faster in a virtual environment, without the physical reminders that we are in fact part of something bigger than ourselves.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Each of us holds the power to create a more meaningful work experience for ourselves, even when the to-do list and the inbox don’t change.

Here are three ways to find purpose in the job you already have:

Frame Your To-Do List.  
‘Framing’ is wrapping a mental bow of impact around the things you do. It enables you to connect your tactical tasks with why it matters. Look over all the things you need to do today, and ask yourself, What impact will they have? It can often be helpful to prompt your thinking with questions like:

  • Who will benefit from this work?
  • And then what will happen?
  • What would happen if I didn’t do this?

The more you can push yourself to articulate the ripple effect of your to-dos, the more meaning they take on. This mental habit might feel awkward at first, but the more you do it, the more stamina (and pleasure) you will have to push through your goals. You know, intrinsically, the to-dos matter.

Resist the urge toward toxic positivity
Feeling a sense of purpose in your work doesn’t mean that everything is sunshine and rainbows all the time. You’ll still have hard days and trying to mask them with toxic positivity can only make them more challenging.

Here’s the issue with toxic positivity- it’s really emotional acting. Emotional acting is when you feel one way (frustrated, nervous, etc.) and act another (cheerful). It’s exhausting and the more you do it, the further removed you become from your authentic self.

Instead of pushing yourself to ‘be positive’ tether back to the impact the work will have. Identifying, with specificity, how your work will make an impact on someone will do much more for your energy than a fake smile.

Lead Up
When you’re not feeling inspired at work, it’s easy to point the blame upwards at your boss. All they care about are numbers, deliverables, and deadlines.

In my years of executive coaching, I regularly see how deeply many executives care about customers, their teams, and the purpose of the organization. Yet they don’t verbalize it.  When they start talking about it (after some coaching) their employees are often surprised. They had no idea their boss cared so much because their boss never gave voice to it.

The same may be true with your boss.  Try asking your boss why they joined the organization, what impact they want to have in the next 12 months, or how they see the team’s work contributing to the larger whole. You might be surprised how much their face lights up. You can do the same thing with your peers.

If the thought of going into a team meeting to tell a customer impact story or asking your boss how a particular project makes a difference for your company is giving you the heebee jeebies, take a breath. The purpose conversation can be a vulnerable one; it flexes emotional muscles we often don’t flex in the cadence of day-to-day business. You might be afraid of how people will react.

But ask yourself, what’s scarier- looking a little bit woo-woo for a moment (which is likely all in your head) or letting the potential judgments of other people rob you of a more meaningful work experience?