How to Find Purpose and Meaning at Work


When the chips are down at work — the deadlines jamming up like bumper cars and the inbox screaming for attention, more fires to put out than all the fire extinguishers on the Eastern Seaboard can handle, there’s one thing that gets me through.

I believe my work has meaning.

According Daniel Pink, author and expert on the nature of work, meaning and purpose are core motivators, alongside autonomy and mastery. Money alone isn’t enough to push us to do our best. Instead, we are driven and inspired when we believe that what we doing serves something important beyond ourselves. We long for this meaning.

“More and more organizations want to have some kind of transcendent purpose,” Pink noted in his TED talk on what motivates us to work harder, better, and with more satisfaction. “Partly because that’s the way to make coming to work better [for employees], and partly because that’s the way to get better talent.” (Watch a clever animation of Pink’s talk by London non-profit RSA.)

Purpose Means Connection
Meaningful work comes from one of the building blocks of resilience: connection. When you believe what you do has a positive purpose in the world, you are connected to your values, to your ideals. You are likely connected to a group of people whose lives you somehow want to make better. You are part of a long line of others who worked in this field or in this manner, and you’re connected to all those to come who will build on your contribution.

The wonderful side effect of purposeful work is that improved resilience. We know that the higher level of connection, the greater your resilience—your ability to cope with stress and bear up under tough times. In fact, the more engaged and connected you are to the work itself, the lower your stress levels will be overall. As Andrew Shatte, Ph.D., one of meQuilibrium’s co-founders, has discovered in his research, those who create connection in their lives feel more confident and secure about their lives. (Read more about connecting to something greater than yourself.)

But what if you’re just there for the pay and the benefits? What if the work is good enough that you simply don’t hate your job? For some, that’s as much as they think they’ll ever get.

The truth is, if you want more out of your work, there’s more purpose to be found. Doing meaningful work needn’t be some elusive cultural ideal reserved for the wealthy or the lucky. Instead, it starts with what you most deeply believe. Here are four questions to help you find your path to purpose.

1. How do you define success? What do you wish for yourself to achieve and to experience?

2. How does your family inspire you? What do they depend on you to do or be? How does your work help you meet the goals you have for your family?

3. What are your hopes for your community? Think big here–your state, your country, even humanity. Is there a problem in this community that you want to fix? Is there a way to start that work at your current job? Or have you outgrown where you are, and is this the time to find a place with the mission you want to call your own?

4. When do you most feel aligned with your core values? What work are you doing in this case? Who are you with? What work projects or outcomes resonate most strongly with those values? What’s one thing you can do to make these activities a greater part of your life.

Connecting to purposeful work might mean serious effort and soul-searching. The change it will foster in you is worth it. You’ll be less stressed and more motivated when you work — and you may even help make the world a better place.