Purpose, Meaning and Work

In my post, “Developing Your Professional Brand”, I noted Dorie Clark’s comment that your professional brand “is about figuring out who you really are and what you do best, and then living that brand out. It’s the essence of authenticity.” I mentioned that four cornerstones need to be addressed when developing your professional brand: Purpose, Clarity, Focus and Strategy.

Today, I want to address the first of these, Purpose: your why — the cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do.

I’ve been re-reading a terrific book by Geoff Bellman: Your Signature Path: Gaining New Perspectives on Life and Work. Bellman wrote this book in the mid-90s, but it is a timeless piece on how to reframe what you see and how to act on it. His premise can be summed up in this quote: “We don’t always need new skills to be successful; we often just need a new perspective.”

Many of us seek purpose through our work. Bellman’s ideas dovetail nicely with Simon Sinek’s admonition to “start with why”; to begin with your motivation and purpose as the basis for what you do and how you do it. Like Sinek, Bellman notes that we’re most comfortable talking about our practice — the “Whats” and the “Hows.” However, “the focus on practice can lead us away from our purpose.  Our methods can lead us away from our meaning.” The “Whys” drive us toward discovering our higher purpose; they speak to our motivation, our passion.

Bellman goes on to address the intersection of passion and work, which he notes, are seldom considered together. He mentions that while the world of work is more demanding and less secure, people are hopeful about work as a path to life meaning (and this was 1996). He offers some exercises to assist in linking passion to work, entitled “Romancing the Grindstone.”

As we seek purpose in our work, we are more motivated and passionate about that work — more engaged. And engagement produces mastery — becoming better at something that matters. In a world where only 13% of employees are actively engaged in their work, achieving a sense of purpose seems vital to everyone’s well being.

In this era, where it’s critical to develop your professional brand — bringing who you are to what you do — knowing your purpose — why you do what you do — may well lead to a whole different set of actions, maybe even a new job, that provides more meaning in your life.

So, over to you…Can you gain a new perspective; one that focuses on your purpose? Can you begin with why — focus on your motivation and passion, rather than on the what and the how? Can you provide meaning to your work? Can you define your work with meaning? Can your passion drive your purpose?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This post originally appeared in the Portland Press Herald on June 26, 2014.

Leave a Reply