Dear Dave: I am finding it hard to feel inspired in my job. I feel like my work has lost its purpose. What I always cared about seems to no longer motivate me. I try to think about why I came to my company in the first place, but that doesn’t help. Is there a way for me to find more meaning in my work? — S
Dear S: Most of us want work that’s meaningful. This means we want to feel that our jobs make a positive difference to other people and that we are contributing to the greater good. I know that if you are turning the same screws on the same machines all day every day, it may seem like you are not doing anything important. But just think what would happen if your work had not been done — the machine would fall-apart, and people could get hurt.
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It appears that you know you have skills, but you have grown tired of using them. A better way to reframe what you are feeling is, how can you use your experience and abilities to reignite your passion and drive, so you can rediscover your purpose? Also, are there individuals who can guide you and provide you advice – or a kick in the pants – to help you feel more excited about your work? Mentors and teachers are all around us, and you may need to humble yourself a bit by asking people for help. You may be delightfully surprised.
But while it’s understandable to feel like your work has lost its purpose, reinvigorating your passion for your work must be a top priority and you can’t just sit on the curb waiting for the “work passion and purpose truck” to stop at your door. Having a defined purpose and identity will guide and inspire you in your work. But it is up to you to realize and sharpen your purpose.
Trying to get that feeling again
Fortunately, reengaging with your job and reminding yourself of who you are and why you do what you do, doesn’t necessarily require an exhaustive analysis from a dozen surveys or a long list of skills inventories – there are many different ways you can find purpose and meaning in your work. Here are some.
Consider the core reasons for your feelings of meaninglessness: Stress is probably the first one you may think of. Every day, workers deal with an onslaught of disturbances – such as your boss makes a negative comment, or a coworker has dropped the ball on his or her part of a task or project. These disturbances mount up and eventually you feel like your job is killing you. I would advise you to identify these disturbances, assess how they impact you, and realize that they are what they are, and you can’t let them keep you down or take away meaning in your work.
Recognize why you feel like you are toast: It’s hard to find meaning in your work when you’re feeling fried and totally exhausted. Give yourself a break. And make sure you are not being overly demanding with your coworkers. They are probably going through what you are going through. Talk to them and share some of the pressures you are feeling. There is nothing better than having colleagues at work who will take time to understand and help you.
This next one is huge – reflect on your values and what motivates you: Assess what you really care about and what gives you meaning. How are you spending your time? Are you spending more time worrying about your sense of purpose, or are you taking positive measures to strengthen how you do what you do? I think that if you know what drives us, you will be able to drive what you do. You may not have the most glamorous job in the world, but you can strive to be the best at what you do each day.
Offer your assistance to others: Asking your coworkers how you can be helpful is one of the most gratifying things you can do. You might, for instance, provide coaching or mentorship to a younger employee, volunteer to pick up slack for a member of your team who’s struggling, or offer words of support to a coworker. Think about your strengths, skills, and passions and how they can be of help to others in new ways. Also, show gratitude to others and look for the good in what they do – your giving a lift to them will give a lift to you.
Finally, whatever you do, don’t make any rash decisions based on how you are feeling at any given moment. Yes, maybe a new job is what you need to feel more fulfilled, but stay positive and active until “the right opportunity” comes along. If you are considering quitting, stop, until you can take the right steps to advance your career.
Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.