Finding purpose in your work seems like a hole in one for job satisfaction. Flourishing, instead of merely existing. All of that “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” business. It makes sense on paper, but is it authentic? Sincere? Can it outweigh rent, credit card payments and any other commitments that might stop us from taking the plunge and doing something that we’re passionate about?
I was recently asked, “what gets you out of bed in the morning?”
For a split second, I was stumped. If I’m truly honest with myself, I don’t really have any hobbies. I’d say I sketch, but I hardly sketch anymore. I would say that I read, but the pile of unread books next to my bed keeps growing taller because I keep reaching for the remote in the evenings instead. I could say that I run, but does a 20-minute treadmill jog 3 times a week really count? Does any of this sound familiar?
I work. And if I’m not working I’m studying, so as to be better at work. Is it healthy? Is it commendable? I have no doubt that that question would be met with a resounding “no” if I ever posed it to friends or colleagues. However, do I like it? Why yes. Yes, I do.
I don’t say this to try to impress bosses or coworkers. I say it because it’s genuine – nothing makes me feel like I’m growing and moving forward the way work does. The more I move forward the more momentum I gain, and I love it. It adds value to my day, and to my life. Again, is this healthy? Very possibly not. I am painfully aware of the perils tied to assigning your self-worth to your job. I have seen and experienced enough burnouts to understand the pitfalls of glorifying being busy. How many of us read all of the articles relevant to these topics and still work a ton of overtime? A few, I’m sure.
So how can I, knowing all of this, still say that it’s my work that gets me out of bed in the morning?
WHY PURPOSE IS IMPORTANT TO ME
If this is going to be what motivates you and I to get moving in the morning, we need to carefully consider the implications. Can you do this day in and day out, dragging yourself to the office each day to follow the same routine while feeling unfulfilled? I don’t think I could. Could you imagine the emptiness that exists with no sense of meaning? I need my moments of excitement, contentment and curiosity to far outnumber those of frustration and boredom, and I’m sure you do too.
So if I feel that I am a part of something bigger than myself, helping build something that matters, growing and learning both personally and professionally?
I would happily admit that my job is what motivates me, completely without guilt or shame.
(At this point it may be pertinent to point out that while I completely respect the desire to have children, it’s not a desire that I share. I know that having a family often instils a sense of purpose in others, and in lacking that it’s even more important for me to find meaningful motivation in how I spend the bulk of my time.)
HOW IT APPLIES TO DIGITAL MARKETING
I realised the importance of purpose during my time at Hello Pretty. Working 16 hour days for 3 years is made a lot easier when you know what you’re doing is helping small businesses grow. Hello Pretty exists to help elevate other small businesses. These range from students with a passion project to people whose business is their livelihood. They are no longer hobbyists or occasional crafters – they are a vital, thriving, and necessary part of the economy. Those who have successfully grown their business past a 1 or 2 person operation further contribute by making use of local fabricants, workshops and CMTs, teaming up with NGOs, and hiring in-house. (You can read more about this in the transcript of my Business of Design 2015 presentation here.)
A similar feeling follows me at NOMU. Our factory hires unskilled employees and trains them to become line managers. We employ roughly 65 factory workers and I know that with every tweet and Facebook post I am helping to grow the company that supports them. We work with charities supporting education, animals and the environment every day. More than that, I believe in our products. We use higher quality ingredients, making giving your family something better so much easier. We use local and recyclable products wherever we can, and are proud to bits to have been the first UTZ certified cocoa product on South African shelves.
I know that I will look for meaning wherever I land next. To not only take on projects that are beautiful or amusing, but also ones that raise awareness in meaningful ways. It’s not always about selling product, but company accountants and shareholders can rest assured that the increased positive public sentiment will translate into sales. Those sales can help fund your next #DoGood campaign.
HOW CAN WE FIND PURPOSE?
Ask yourself, does what I do serve others?
Is there a social value that helps others live their lives? Hey presto, your job has purpose. Seek that out or try to create it. Let’s be honest for a hot minute: I work advertising. I sell luxury hot chocolate. But more and more companies are cottoning onto the #DoGood element of marketing outside of simply selling products. A truly excellent example of this is the recent anti-bullying PSA from Burger King. Running this side by side with their usual cheeky narrative (trolling McDonald’s with various It references), they reminded fans not only of their personality but of their heart. The purpose is there, you just have to scratch it out.
I can’t tell you how to find purpose in your personal life. But spending a third of your time at the office seems to warrant finding it in your professional life. Believing in what you do certainly helps you through the bad days and long hours. Some days will always be tougher than others – we’re only human after all. I know that I am extremely privileged to be in a position where I have access to higher education and the tools to keep learning, and on the days where I’m truly struggling I find a respite from the daily grind in my studies. Learning adds value to my life – both to my professional and personal growth. Whether it’s a full degree, a free course, mentorship or a YouTube tutorial, I walk away feeling more fulfilled no matter the topic.
“I have found that whether we enjoy our work often boils down to how our job fits with our sense of purpose.” – Dan Pontefract
But enough about me (she says, 1229 words later). How do you find purpose? What makes you proud of your work? Did you even make it this far in the post?