Welcome friends to Episode #100 of the Own Your Best Life Podcast. The big 100. It’s fitting that we cover the very topic that created this podcast in the first place. Answering the question, “Why?” We spend over 90,000 hours at work over the course of our lifetime. Why do we work? What do we want from our work? We want to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at the end of each day and whether or not you think your work has meaning or purpose today, wouldn’t it be amazing if you felt that it did? Today, we’re going to suspend belief and judgment – and instead dive into that prompt “wouldn’t it be amazing if…” as it relates to your work.
I’m going to start with the idea of possibility. If we don’t start with the idea of asking ourselves to go beyond our limits of what we think is possible, it is an uphill battle to create something as beautiful as meaningful and purposeful work – especially because for many of us, this type of passion and inspiration is not always present for us in our day-to-day experiences.
Yet, this is where we will go. I believe that you can have that type of passion and inspiration in your work. It is possible. I have seen it. I have created it for myself and my clients. It may not be your reality currently, but it is possible. I will explain how.
When I did my research at Columbia on Spirituality in the Workplace, one of the tenets was meaningful and purposeful work. Often, we don’t think about the meaning or purpose of our work until we start resenting it or something happens. We feel negative or something fails.
This is when we ask ourselves – why am I doing this in the first place?
Let’s start there. Why are you doing this in the first place?
Meaning and purpose isn’t that you are working in a non-profit organization or only doing work that has no monetary component. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t being compensated. It doesn’t mean that you are a spiritual guru.
What it does mean is that you understand why you are doing this work.
I remember early on in my career, I was in a leadership development program. I was working at a distribution center as part of a rotational program and I met a man who was kind, smart, funny and interesting. He seemed like he could have done so many different kinds of work and been successful. He also seemed like he was well aware of this. But he said something that I always remembered, “I’m working here at this job for my kids. To give them what they need. To provide them with opportunities.” He went on to describe his kids and how unique and wonderful they were.
It wasn’t about the work he was doing. It was about the why.
Many of us can’t get over the work. We think the work has to be one way or another. We think we should love our work. Don’t get me wrong – loving our work is entirely possible. Yet, loving your work comes from our decisions to love our work.
It comes from seeing what the work provides us, how it fits into our lives and what we love about it. We need a certain amount of self-awareness in order to understand what happens when we don’t love our work and how to love our work even more.
This man knew himself. He knew what he was capable of and he knew where his sense of fulfillment, meaning and purpose came from. It wasn’t designated to him by the job he had. No one said, “Sir. This work is meaningful because it provides your kids with opportunities.” He said that. Someone else could have taken the same job and been miserable, focusing on what they aren’t getting, how much they aren’t getting paid and where else they can go.
He was one of the happiest and most optimistic people I’ve met.
He knew he cared about his family first and foremost. That being able to provide for them in this way was the number one priority. How many of you are that clear about why you work? Sure, there may be a sense of providing for your family or yourself, but do you believe it fully? Are you committed to that decision as the number one priority? You don’t have to be, but you have to also understand that if we’re not sure what we care about most and why, we’ll go from job to job, business to business, questioning this the whole time and being discontent with each place we go. We need to understand what we prioritize and why. What we care about and why.
Benefits of Meaningful and Purposeful Work
So many of us feel disengaged with our work and disconnected from it. We might not be fully disengaged where we are about to quit but we might not be fully engaged. Fully engaged looks like we are leaders, bringing other people along with us. We are culture builders. People want to work for you and with you – they follow you. Fully engaged is seeing what needs to be done and doing those things without resentment. With purpose.
When we are fully engaged in our work, we’ll make more money. We’ll have more exposure. We’ll be given greater responsibilities, projects and opportunities. I say this not to overwhelm you but to realize that your runway is long and far when you are fully engaged. When you are fully engaged you feel connected to your work and you want to do more. When you’re not engaged, you won’t want to do more and increase the scope of your work. When you’re not engaged, you limit your work. You spend your time thinking about how to minimize your effort instead of thinking about how to maximize your impact.
If you’re trying to limit your work today, it is likely that you aren’t engaged. You don’t find meaning and purpose in your work. It doesn’t mean you can’t – but it means that you don’t. This is what we work on when I work with my clients. We work on understanding what meaning and purpose means to them. How to define it. How to live your purpose. It’s not what most people think. It’s not something that gets dropped in your lap with a big sign that says, “THIS IS YOUR PURPOSE.” You discover it through experience. You do things. You take action. You live your life with normal, real human beings. You reflect. This is really important.
I remember when I realized that I wanted to do something different in terms of my work, and that I didn’t feel like this work that I was good at was really utilizing my gifts. Most people would have never known that I wasn’t fully engaged. But I did. You know the difference. Many achievers can hide it because their capacity to do a lot of work even when they’re not fully engaged is very high. Yet what is going to change everything is when you realize that there is so much more in you when you are engaged. If you could do this job to this degree when you’re not really interested, imagine what happens when you are.
It’s not about more time. It’s about the quality of thinking you bring to your work. One of the benefits of meaningful work is that it increases your time spent thinking about solutions in this area. You will figure more things out then the average person because you care more and you are more curious about how things work and why. You are interested in the topic so you’ll learn and read about it in your spare time. You’ll also be more devoted to wanting to do this for the longer term so you’ll take care of your mental and physical health better.
When I was really burned out, I went to a functional medicine doctor and had a lot of blood tests done. I was pretty healthy by most measures, but I was stressed by my work – not happy with the day-to-day experience – and it showed up through months of dealing with gut issues, bronchitis and so much coughing I couldn’t exercise for months. It was 6 months before I was able to move around normally without my ribs hurting. Most people I worked with, friends and family had no idea. This is why stress is an insidious killer. One of the reasons why I love my functional medicine doctor and why I recommend a doctor who cares about your holistic health is because during that time I remembered one visit where he asked the hard questions that I was asking myself, “when are you going to change your work?”
I was working with a coach then, knowing that I knew I was ready for a change and that I was going to pursue coaching – but I hadn’t taken more action to switch roles at that point. I kept thinking about how my role had no replacement. They really needed me. I was so used to putting the business and work first that it was extremely challenging for me to have the hard conversations about changing roles. It took a LOT of me understanding my own why, what meaning and purpose looked like to me – not in vague terms – but in specifics. Specifics like not being present with my kids to the point that my 3 year old daughter asked me why I was so tired. Seeing that there was an impact on my family helped me realize that family was a big motivator for my work. More than I realized.
Fast forward 2 years after I made the change, I went back to do another evaluation and more blood work with my functional medicine doctor. Everything, including how I answered the very long intake form – was really healthy and positive – not just the outward markers of health but the inwards ones as well. Stress levels, sleep, mood – through the roof. He was thrilled and he said something I’ll never forget. “We can do all the work through diet and exercise but you can’t underestimate the impact that work has on your health.”
One of the reasons my work with my clients is so holistic is because your whole life can be affected by one thing. You can look healthy by most measures and be outwardly functional, but there are so many intangibles like stress and the quality of the emotions we hold that affect the quality of our lives. You cannot force your way into meaning. You create it by being honest, truthful and compassionate about how precious life is – to the point that you feel compelled to have impacted the world in some way with your life. Instead of us holding work as the standard, we hold our values and philosophy about life as the standard – and create from the inside out.
This is what it means to go on the journey of creating meaningful and purposeful work. It’s about taking one of the biggest parts of your life and using it to teach you how to live with more energy, joy, love and compassion. The work itself isn’t the reason we are pursuing it – it’s not the why. The why is who you become along the way.
If you’re ready to let go of the stress and create meaningful and purposeful work, you can schedule a free coaching consultation today at www.mayempson.com/contact.
No matter what success means to you, coaching will help you get there faster and more sustainably. We work towards results in every area of your life. Time management – spending more time on what’s most important. Creating a mix of work and personal life that is sustainable. Career and Business – deciding what you want next and how to achieve it – whether it is more flexibility, purpose or deciding to start your own business. Energy management – improving your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health so you build confidence in designing your own life. If you’ve got some changes you want support in thinking through, book your free consultation at www.mayempson.com/contact today.