How to Connect to Your Purpose and Find Meaningful Work
By: Jeff Fajans, PhD
Now is the Time
There has never been a better time to connect to your purpose and find meaningful work.
All aspects of our lives – especially how, when, and where we work – have been shaken up over the past three years.
Everything is still in the process of being reconfigured and remolded.
It can feel unsettling to be faced with so much change and uncertainty, but when things around you are in transition, that is the perfect time for you to be in transition.
It’s the perfect time to get proactive and act boldly toward defining your purpose.
Who do you want to be and what do you want to do next?
Connecting to your purpose is a journey. It requires deliberate effort, resilience, and persistence. And there may be no definitive endpoint.
But when you get clear and connected to your purpose, you naturally gravitate towards meaningful work, and your career undoubtedly accelerates.
You feel focused on what matters most because your values become crystal clear.
Your decision-making becomes faster, better, and more courageous as it’s easier to identify what is aligned (or not) with your purpose.
You’re doing more things that you actually “want” to do (instead of things you feel you “should” or “have” to do) – and this decreases stress and frustration and brings you more joy.
You feel more in control because you have something that is yours – something you can influence and act upon despite what’s happening around you.
When you’re engaged in meaningful activity, you unlock your highest levels of performance, creativity, and fulfillment.
How to Find Your Purpose
If you don’t know what your “purpose” is, that’s perfectly normal. Despite what many self-help gurus and motivational speakers may have you believe, most people are not born with a crystal-clear purpose.
And if finding your purpose feels like too overwhelming of a task, no worries.
Let’s break down finding your purpose into smaller, actionable chunks.
Take away the pressure of needing to come up with “perfect answers” and focus instead on reflecting openly on the ideas and questions below.
Identify Your Passions
Your passions are the building blocks of your purpose. Without passion, there is no purpose. It’s hard to stay committed to something that does not bring you joy. You’ll unlock higher levels of creativity and success when there is some underlying level of authentic passion or intrinsic motivation.
To unearth your passions, ask yourself these questions:
- What brings me joy?
- What excites me?
- When am I having the most fun?
- What do I love?
- What am I absolutely obsessed with?
- What did I love to do when I was a kid? What did I want to do when I grew up?
- What could I spend hours learning more about, experimenting with, and doing that would feel like play instead of work?
After journaling out your responses, go deeper by asking yourself “why?”
If you are having a hard time responding to these questions, that’s no problem. Sometimes, due to the social, cultural, or family experiences people had growing up, it can feel uncomfortable or foreign to reflect on such concepts.
The word “passion” can also trip people up because they might feel a passion must be fully formed; that a passion must be intense, burning, or obsessive.
A passion doesn’t need to be a raging bonfire. It could be a small spark or a cloud of smoke rising from another flame.
In other words, instead of just focusing on passions, uncover your curiosities and inspirations:
- What am I curious about?
- What topics do I love to explore?
- What do I want to learn more about?
- What skills do I want to develop?
- Who do I admire most?
- Who inspires me?
- Who are my role models?
- What types of stories inspire me most?
Understand and Apply Your Strengths
Do you know what your strengths are?
A strength is an ability to provide consistent, near-perfect, and positive performance in a given activity.
When you feel authentically engaged in what you are doing, competent, and as if something comes naturally to you, that’s you utilizing one of your strengths.
The science of positive psychology shows that each person has a unique set of strengths that when understood and applied can lead to:
- Higher levels of meaning and purpose
- Boosted confidence
- Reduced stress
- Higher levels of goal accomplishment
- Improved work performance
- Strengthened relationships
- Increased happiness
The more time you spend using your strengths, the more fulfilling your life will be.
Take the VIA Character Strength Assessment to get a science-based report on your top strengths.
Reflect on Your Values
Your values can serve as your North Star to greater happiness and meaningfulness by authentically guiding your actions and decisions. Values are like the guardrails that help you determine how to show up and what is most important in life.
What are your highest values?
If you’re unsure, take time to explore the following:
- What truly matters most to me?
- What defines me?
- Who am I when I am at my best?
- How do I make hard decisions?
Put Together The Pieces and Define Your Purpose
After you get clear on your passions, strengths, and values it’s time to connect them and begin defining your purpose.
What patterns or themes stood out most to you when reflecting on your passions, strengths, and values?
What were your key insights or takeaways?
Here are some additional questions to reflect on that may help you define your purpose:
- How can I combine my passions, curiosities, inspirations, strengths, and values in a way that energizes me?
- What do I want?
- Who do I want to become?
- Who do I want to serve, influence, or impact?
- What value or contribution do I want to make?
- What experiences do I want to have over the next 3-5 years?
- What big, bold ideas do I want to bring to life?
Think of your purpose as a direction – an ongoing mission driven by your passions, strengths, values, and the impact you want to make on others.
Craft your purpose clearly so that you know whether the actions you are taking each day are either moving you closer to fulfilling your purpose or not.
Experiment with writing out your purpose in the form of a one-sentence statement. Write out as many different versions of it as you want until you find the one that most resonates with you.
Remember, this is a creative exercise, not a math problem. There are no right or wrong answers. Your purpose can and will evolve. Trust yourself to know when your purpose is beginning to feel right and go deeper with it.
How to Find Meaningful Work
When you’re clear on your purpose, it’s so much easier to find meaningful work.
Now that you feel more in tune with what matters most to you, it’s time to take action.
Explore Your Current Situation
Finding more meaningful work doesn’t mean you need to quit your current job and venture out into the unknown.
How could you shift your current role and responsibilities to be more aligned with your purpose?
One way is to engage in “job crafting.”
Job crafting is about taking proactive steps and actions to redesign what you do at work. In the most researched job-crafting model, you can make intentional changes in your tasks, relationships, and perceptions of your job to make it more engaging, meaningful, and satisfying.
- Change Your Tasks: How could you make your tasks more engaging? How could you design your tasks so that you are experiencing more flow at work? How could I use my strengths more at work?
- Change Your Relationships: How could you approach the way you collaborate, communicate, and interact with others to be more aligned? How could you spend more time around those that energize you (and less around those that drain you?)
- Change your Perceptions: What opportunities exist to reframe your mindset about what you do?
Talk to your boss and colleagues about what you find most motivating and purposeful and explore new opportunities with them. Look for new ways that you could contribute to the team’s goals or untapped possibilities for the new value you could create.
If you act with courage and creativity, you are bound to uncover opportunities to make meaningful changes to your current work situation.
Explore Other Situations
If you find yourself in a situation that just isn’t right for you, it may be time to consider how your purpose could better align with the mission and culture of another employer.
If this is the case, reach out to your network and share with them what purpose-driven work looks like to you. Ask them if they might know of any opportunities that align.
Research other companies and careers that may better align with your purpose. If you’ve been feeling unfulfilled in your current line of work, your next best move may be to something radically different! Explore how your set of skills and strengths could transfer into new industries and roles.
Connecting to your purpose and finding meaningful work is a challenging endeavor. You don’t need to do it alone.
Work with a career or executive coach – ideally one who specializes in meaningfulness at work, purpose, passion, and strengths like the talented, diverse leadership coaches at PPCaDI.
Connect with mentors. Learn from other people who have found meaningful work and are living out their purpose. Build relationships with them and ask them for advice on making the transition into more fulfilling work.
The new rules of work are still being rewritten, and the world is still in transition.
There is no better time than now to connect with your purpose and take action toward finding meaningful work.
Approach this journey with a growth mindset, knowing that you may make mistakes along the way but will learn from them. Your purpose will evolve and how you apply your purpose in your work will change.
Focus on progress over perfection.
This is about making intentional choices moving forward. You don’t have to radically reshape your life. You can make small changes, over time. There is no perfect, final endpoint.
If you’re honest with yourself and take deliberate action consistently, you’ll become more aligned with your purpose and closer to meaningful work each week.
What could your life look and feel like a year from now if you take consistent action toward living out your purpose each day?
What is one small thing you could do tomorrow that brings you closer to finding meaningful work?
Be authentic. Be bold. You got this.