Finding the Purpose of Work

Should It be Intrinsically Motivating?

We all have varied definitions of success and rewards in careers, so fulfillment in work is a deeply personal and individual experience.
Harvey Ramer
Harvey Ramer
5 min read (1066 words) Subscribe Now!

Career satisfaction is not a one-size-fits-all concept. We may chase entrepreneurial endeavors or climb the corporate ladder. But no matter our career path, unique values, interests, and aspirations shape us all.

The Diverse Paths to Career Success

I arrived at Armetta’s Gelato & Caffè in Apollo Beach, Florida on a Saturday morning. The dining area hummed with conversation as I moved toward a quiet table. Bright sunshine gleamed off the polished glass of cars parked outside, and it was easy to feel upbeat about what the day would hold. I sat at my table with a steaming cup of coffee and began to write.

My article-in-progress examined the rewards of well-chosen work. While I composed my first draft, I mused about how everyone must choose those rewards for himself. What motivates some people to select entrepreneurship over startups or corporate jobs as their career path? I wondered.

The rise of podcasting and social media has produced many persuasive voices that urge us to imitate their success. Perhaps they believe their inclinations are universal—that their passion should move others in the same way it drives them. But those who follow an influencer will discover that imitation is not a surefire way to realize their professional goals.

Those who have abandoned the 9 to 5 grind celebrate their independence. They frequently see employees as timid, insecure, and narrow-minded. Some employees simultaneously view entrepreneurship with a mixture of envy and trepidation. They worry that the rewards of freedom do not outweigh the hazards of being an entrepreneur.

But do we know what motivates us or what will provide contentment? Do we understand the real reasons we choose one professional path over another?

At the table next to me, two men in their sixties hob-nobbed about their plans for the day. Although I ignored the details of their conversation, I noticed a pause in their exchange. Turning to them, I asked, “What rewards in your career are most important to you?”

“I’ve never thought of what I do as work,” said the first, grinning. “I have been a recording engineer, music producer, and the owner of several companies. I always woke up looking forward to the day ahead.” The second retorted, “Don’t listen to him. I modeled the right path to career success for my children. Find a job nobody else wants to do. Do it well, and distinguish yourself. That way, you’ll have security and make a ton of money!”

Diametric Opposition

There it was in black and white. Both men had prospered. Yet they defined their rewards in diametric opposition. One felt that creative, engaging work was the real reward. The other believed financial prosperity and respect were the rewards of a well-done job.

The Unique Mix

Were both right? It seems to me they were. We all have a unique mix of personality traits, talents, and life goals. If nobody found joy in their profession, they would not express their artistic viewpoint. Their absence would deprive our souls of beauty. But if no one wanted to use their labor as a vehicle for success, the unappealing chores, though vital, would remain undone.

Finding Joy and Purpose

Rather than seeking joy in a career change, we should acknowledge that our attitude is more important than our current situation. Let’s stop obsessing about what could be and instead focus on what is and use this state of affairs to improve our lives.

Even if everything else changes, we will hold the same attitudes and perspectives on our work unless we change our mindset.

“Wherever you go, there you are.”

— Jon Kabat-Zinn

Career transitions do little, if anything, to change our mindset, yet it is our inner perspective that creates the meaning we seek. We must keep work in its place. It will not heal our souls but can become a powerful, transformative tool.

Work as a Means to an End

All work, whether we love, or hate it, is a means to an end. An ideal job sparks our intrinsic motivation, but our self-actualization is not the aim of employment. Our daily labor enables a company to achieve its strategic plans. It is a potent force for good.

Before you make radical changes to your career, ask yourself, “What truly matters to me?” Envision how your current work can become a means of achieving the thing for which you are most passionate. Sometimes the path to fulfillment requires only minor changes in our vocation. But it always hinges on a clear, compelling mission and a chance to offer our best work in its advancement.

Overcoming Resistance

Even if you love your job, there will be tasks that require sheer willpower. A good work ethic presumes that there will be days that deplete our energy rather than producing joy. But gradually realizing an ambition to achieve a mission creates emotional resilience. It enables you to face even your worst days with hope. The end toward which we work must be compelling enough to overcome any internal and external resistance that comes our way.

If you feel discouraged and low on energy, clarify what you truly care about. With that knowledge to guide you, make mindset changes and career adjustments to unlock your potential.

Strategies for Building Career Resilience

  1. Embrace a Mindset Shift for Security: Your mindset is one of the few things you can control as an employee. By focusing on what you can control—your performance and skills—you can create a sense of security even in an unstable environment.
  2. Build Emotional Resilience: Emotional resilience allows you to adapt to changes and challenges, which is crucial as an employee. Being emotionally resilient can help you maintain a positive outlook and stay focused on your goals, regardless of external circumstances.
  3. Plan for Multiple Scenarios: As an at-will employee, your job security is not guaranteed. Having a contingency plan gives you a safety net and a sense of control, reducing stress and enabling you to focus better on your current role. For instance, many people find that starting a side project or freelance work is an effective strategy for building resilience.

These three strategies serve as a foundation for empowering yourself, allowing you to navigate the uncertainties of at-will employment with greater confidence.

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