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Working On Purpose

by Dan King

“Consistent purpose is not enough to make life happy, but is an indispensable condition of a happy life.  And consistent purpose embodies itself mainly in work.” 

Bertrand Russell


business-437020_640Throughout history, work has been woven into the fabric of society, influencing not only its culture, but often its principles and values.  So I’m astonished at the number of people who sell their souls to organizations that have little or no connection to their principles and values — but then grumble about their work dissatisfaction.

I attended a social function recently as a guest of the person who was actually invited, my wife.  I generally don’t like going to these things, but I’ve learned to pick my battles carefully.  Upon my arrival, I perused the area in search of “my people,” that is, the other “guests of the invitees” standing awkwardly in the corner.  I sauntered over hoping to find an interesting conversation to help pass the time.  It didn’t take long.  In a matter of minutes a rather cheerful guy introduced himself as “Gary” and of course asked: “so what do you do?”

“I help people solve problems and make decisions regarding their work and work lives.”  Somewhat perplexed, Gary followed up with “but where do you work?”  He automatically assumed that “to work” meant “to work someplace.”

“I have a career coaching and consulting practice,” I replied, which piqued his interest — and triggered a sermon on the pitfalls of his job and how much he hates it.  It seems Gary is reasonably well-paid with a generous package of benefits, but he thinks his boss is a jerk.  He is bored with his work and dreads almost every minute of it.

Before he could go on, I cut in: “Why don’t you just quit if you dislike it so much?”

His response:  “Well, why would I quit?  I’ll be able to retire in 15 years.”

Gary’s purpose in work is to “do his time.”  His work has become a life sentence.  Retirement is his primary goal, and he is willing to compromise his happiness and personal satisfaction to achieve it.  Even worse, he is willing to bank his retirement on the risky hope of his job continuing for the next 15 years.

Gary’s career involves working fifty to sixty hours per week or more to get ahead, putting in time now so he can enjoy life later.  As long as he is receiving a paycheck, he tolerates his meaningless job.  But the comfort he preserves requires a big trade-off, for it denies him the opportunity to experience work that makes him happy, that is congruent with his desires while still meeting his monetary needs.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

When we sacrifice pleasure for pay, as Gary does, our work lacks dignity and, ultimately, breaks our spirit.  Sure, we may say that our passions are nurtured outside of work, by family and friends, creative endeavors, sports, or at play.  But true wisdom lies not in separating work and play, but in integrating the two.

Work helps us understand why we are here.  It prescribes our purpose or mission and gives others a quick snapshot of our role in the community and in society.   To be sure, our children and grandchildren will look upon our principles and values to interpret our relationship to life and livelihood.  What will they learn?  What will be our legacy of work?  Will it be that we were afforded the opportunity to choose how to expend our time and still choose work with no inner purpose or mission, totally devoid of passion?

<On a positive note, Gary reached out to me three weeks later.  His company is about to be acquired — and he’s worried about what will happen to him.  We’re now working on a career plan to preserve his financial security and better align his values with his long term career goals.> 

MeaningfulCareers.Com was created by Mark Guterman and Dan King, two guys with a shared commitment to the power of meaningful work. We believe that every person can have a meaningful career, guided by his or her own alignment of purpose, commitments and competence. People who have meaningful careers do better, feel better, and add lasting value through their work.

Created by Mark Guterman and Dan King, MeaningfulCareers.com works with professionals looking for meaning in their careers, an alignment of purpose, commitments and competence in the workplace, creating a better life and lasting value through their work.  For more information and downloadable resources visit:  http://meaningfulcareers.com


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