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Looking Beyond the Self: The Hunt for the Meaning and Purpose of Work

Remember when that classic question on goals was asked during the interview you went through to get the job you are doing now? And remember when you confidently provided the prepared answer on your sense of purpose, plans and goals for your career? But what if you do not know the answer?

work purpose, employee motivation, HR, Human Resource
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Most practical individuals might associate work as a constant stream of income that provides for their live and needs. Whilst others might associate their work with something beyond a source of income or an obligation; this article will be focusing on the latter.

Losing the meaning or purpose might lead to loss of direction at work, which might in turn trigger a decrease in both performance and internal motivation to work (and it is not pleasant). When the question of work purpose is asked, there will always be a portion of individuals who simply do not know the answer. According to several articles, the phenomenon is not unusual. There might a few articles that come your way and help you to (re)discover your work purpose - the reason and goals that drive individuals to work. The articles provide these suggestions: do more of what makes you happy, follow your passion and face your fears that might be hindering you from your goals.

In summary, most of the articles are suggesting us to look inside ourselves to find purpose and look even deeper if you still could not find it. When the answer to the question is still unknown, frustrations might start to appear. In answer to that, borrowing from Oprah,

‘work may not be where your calling or passion resides.’

Oprah continues to discuss that the concept of ‘happily employed individual’ was not even perceived possible until the 18th century. It was not exactly a fulfilling answer but those who have these questions lingering in their minds might also consider that

‘the answer to “Who are you meant to be?” is perhaps this: the person who keeps asking the question.”

Or in other words, the question has the potential of being left unanswered.

For those who are still concerned about the uncertainty of your purpose and meaning behind the work you are currently doing, take a listen to this podcast episode with Dr Amy Wrzesniewski. The industrial psychology professor suggests us to take a look at the greater picture, to look beyond the self and its interests. She suggests to take a moment to observe and listen to what the world or environment (i.e. workplace) is asking of you.

Without labeling the thoughts of ‘looking inside’ as individualistic and selfish, we might want to consider that the answer of our work purpose lies beyond our current passion and interests. We might find that asking ‘What is required of me to support my organization? What are the loose ends or tasks that I could tie up and get done?’ instead of asking ‘What is it in this job that makes me happy?’ a little bit more liberating; and who knows? It might eventually lead us to our purpose to work in this organization.

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