“You did that on purpose!”
Oops. I’d been caught out for my dastardly act of pushing my brother on his trike into the french windows.
My brother had been teasing me all afternoon. Fed up, I gave him a shove to get him to leave me alone. A. Big. Shove.
On purpose means doing something deliberately, like trying to get your own back on a pesky brother or pursuing a long-term goal.
Having purpose helps us create meaning in our lives.
But it’s not a single entity written in stone. Purpose is a dynamic, that waxes and wanes at different stages in our lives.
In his book Life on Purpose, Victor J. Strecher uses the analogy of thinking of yourself as a boat, no matter how much wind there is to fill your sails, without a rudder i.e. purpose it’s going to be really hard to get to your destination.
Your goals give your life direction, help to advance your career, or to achieve something special that hasn’t been done before, even if others think you’re crazy for doing it.
Like Drs Gareth Andrews and Richard Stephenson, who in late 2022 chose to complete the longest unsupported ski crossing of Antarctica, each pulling two 160kg sleds over 2023 kms in 72 days.
If you like me are scratching your head wondering “Why?”
Look at it this way.
If you set yourself a goal that is well, a little average, it’s not much of a big stretch. If you’re fully confident of reaching your goal, without any obstacles, where’s the thrill and anticipation for success?
But having a goal that is a little more audacious, and you really want to give it a crack, is much more exciting. Now you’ve got something to wake up to in the morning, thinking “yes, today’s the day!”
Research has shown working with purpose is good for your cognition and longevity.
It reduces stress and keeps you healthy. You’re more likely to engage in healthy lifestyle choices.
Purpose is also one of the four key factors driving engagement.
If you see little reason for the work you’re being asked to do, if you find it boring, unchallenging, and are made to feel like just another small cog in a big wheel that doesn’t care about you and your needs, why bother?
A recent article from Bain and Co suggests creating more purposeful work is key to retaining talent by:
1. Making work interesting
Goodness Sherlock, you astound me! Are you telling me that turning up and going through the motions to get a paycheck isn’t enough?
This is where job crafting and smart use of technology can reduce the amount of time spent on mundane tasks, freeing you up to spend more time on the interesting stuff utilising your skills.
2. Connecting jobs to the company’s mission
Do you know what your company’s mission is? Do you share the same values?
If the mission feels worthwhile and aligns with what you consider important, you’re more likely to want to stick around and be a part of it.
3. Building learning into work
A stagnant pond quickly suffocates any life.
It’s the same at work. Feeling like you’re stagnating in your role, lacking the opportunity to learn and grow either personally or professionally, kills any sense of purpose for what you do.
Where do you sit in the Bain Employee Value Pyramid?
Are you satisfied, engaged, or inspired?
Flexibility came to the fore in the aftermath of the global pandemic when it was realised that having a say in where, when, and how you do your work makes a big difference in managing some of the complexities of our modern way of living.
But it’s not enough on its own, to make you want to stay or love your work.
It’s purpose that plays hardball in securing your desire to do your work and do it well, rather than flexibility alone.
In their HBR article titled Rethink Your Employee Value Proposition, Amy Edmondson and Mark Mortenson suggest that beyond providing flexibility in the moment, building a thriving and sustainable workplace for the future, requires four interrelated factors including material offerings, opportunities to develop and grow, connection and community and meaning and purpose.
Purpose is essential to wellbeing.
Purpose brings you to life. You are fully thriving. This is the basis of Martin Seligman’s PERMA model; Positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment.
Engage with positive emotions.
When you seek moments of pleasure, bliss or awe you build your resilience, handling challenge and threat more easily.
In 2022 Sarah Metcalfe and I interviewed Anja Blacha for our podcast Thriving with Sarah and Jenny. A remarkable explorer and mountaineer, Anja shared how she coped during those moments while trekking solo across the Artic ice or climbing K2 when it was all getting very hard.
She would remind herself she had the resources to complete her task, all she had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other and think about why she was doing this.
Her single focus, dogged determination, self-belief, and positive mindset is impressive!
Choosing to stay positive helps you to be better at problem-solving and creative thinking. Rather than being mired in catastrophe thinking, you’re better placed to stay on track and open to possibility.
Expressing gratitude for what you have and experiencing moments of awe are powerful ways to feel connected to others and the planet, and happy!
Focus on Flow
If you’ve got a tricky challenge that’s making you question your sanity in pursuing your goal, stay in the game.
You may be on track to be the runner-up in the tennis tournament, but by continuing to pay attention to every point played, you’re fully engaged, gaining experience and mastery. Stephanos Tsitsipas gave us a masterclass on this at the recent Australian Open Men’s final.
It’s a team effort
Teamwork is the antidote to loneliness, burnout, and mental health challenges. It provides the social support needed to help you know you’re not alone, and to feel encouraged and cared about.
Working on a shared goal builds trust and optimism and working together in times with adversity keeps hope alive for a positive outcome.
Purpose and meaning are often linked together. Working with purpose serves to elevate the meaning we find in our activities and changes our perspective of how much effort is required to complete our goals.
Let’s say you’ve decided to climb K2. It’s not a climb for the faint-hearted, or anyone not highly skilled in mountaineering, but what’s interesting is how your perception of just how hard and how steep that mountain is, alters when you’re working to a higher purpose.
If you’re not into climbing mountains but want to set up your own business, having clarity around your purpose in doing this, whether to contribute to the greater good or other reason, provides the inspiration for you to put in the effort and time needed to achieve success.
Your work doesn’t feel so hard or daunting when you’re working with purpose.
It’s great to do well in your chosen field and be recognised for your success. But doing it because it fills your soul is what feeds the flame of that pursuit.
Purpose is why you’re here. It’s your internal engine that motivates you to do great work.
As Bain partners Mankins, Garton and Schwartz in their leadership piece write, “focusing less on providing more flexibility and better pay and benefits, and instead, turning attention to improving the intrinsic value of work” is what enables employees to know
“My work has purpose and I find purpose in my work.”
If inspiration and purpose is important to you, how does it show up in your world?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Dr Jenny Brockis is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker, trainer and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is available for purchase.
If psychological safety, burnout prevention and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.