Creating a Sense of Purpose at Work

Some cultures seem adept at sucking the souls out of their employees. You can do better than that.

I published an article recently at The Balance, entitled: “Finding Meaning and Purpose in Your Work as a Manager.” The essence of the article is that you give life to the meaning and purpose by how you think about and approach your work. If your emphasis every day is to teach, guide and develop, the meaning and purpose show up even in the mundane activities.

Too many people I encounter have given up striving to move beyond what they characterize as the daily grind. Instead of creating and building, they are surviving. And while some cultures seem adept at sucking the souls out of their employees, I believe you choose your attitude, and you can frame your work in terms that give it meaning or words that make it mundane.

Most of us have encountered the story of the two stone masons busy cutting stones. One described himself as simply a stonecutter The other described himself as a mason and announced triumphantly, “And I am building a great cathedral.”

Which one are you?

I had the great occasion to connect with a life-long friend and brilliant business professional the other day. This person is a heavy hitter when it comes to doing deals and positioning firms for deals. Most of his career has centered on transactions, and it is only recently that he has shifted his emphasis to building teams to build his organization. His enthusiasm for the work as he described it was palpable.

Talking with and listening to him reminded me how strong the sense of purpose is when the focus is on building and developing people to grow a business.

Finding Flow in Your Work

I’ve experienced my version of flow—that mental state when you are completely immersed in and enjoying an activity—in my work developing teams to grow my business.

The numbers were never the driver—they were the outcomes. The problems were simply obstacles to be overcome. The cause of the joy was the chance to strive with a group of people who shared the same sense of meaning and purpose. We weren’t saving lives, but we were serving clients we cared for and striving not just to beat but summarily outthink and outflank our competitors.

Take Action

Our lives and careers are too short to exist in a state devoid of meaning and purpose. If you are like so many others who feel like they are marking time until something better happens or comes along, quit waiting and take action.

Start with your view of what you can do for others—employees and customers—and focus on identifying new ways every day to serve. You might surprise yourself as your work takes on a new complexion.

If you are stuck inside a culture that seems to eat souls for energy, break away. Do anything except stay put. And as you sort through the options and choices to invest in with your time and talent, look around and see how people are finding meaning and purpose in their work before signing on with them.

There’s meaning and purpose to be found in all work. Sometimes we just choose not to see it. From manager to laborer, it’s all in how we shape our thinking. Now, quit cutting stones and start building a cathedral!

Art Petty is a coach and consultant working with executives and management teams to unlock business and human potential. He writes the Leadership Caffeine blog.