Finding Purpose in Work – Is It Time to Redefine Success?

Most Germans are satisfied with their work – at least 56 percent, according to a study by Ernst & Young. However, salary alone isn’t the only factor in job satisfaction. In inspecting a working world that’s becoming more and more complex all the time, the result is exhaustion and a blurring line between private and professional life, that leads more employees to look for meaning in their work.

Sinnsuche im Job

As a career advisor, Nicole Billen-Schreiner has many middle-aged senior managers and professionals as clients – successful, but somehow demotivated and dissatisfied with their careers. Most of these clients have expressed that “purpose” is missing from their work.

Once the novelty of status and financial prosperity wear off, they’re at a loss when it comes to pursuing their professions any further; their work no longer has any value for them.

Why is it important to find purpose in your profession?

The search for meaning is only natural in humans. Albert Einstein knew it all too well: “Men who see no purpose in their lives are not only unhappy, they’re hardly living.”

To better understand the effects of purpose and calling on one’s career, psychologists Michele Gazica and Paul Spector of the University of South Florida led a study. They set out to find out from their study’s participants whether they perceive their current career to be a real calling.

Their findings: those who said yes were not only more satisfied with themselves and their lives, but they also felt healthier.

A lack of purpose often leads to more than a life without joy in the workplace – it also robs people of the energy they need to complete their daily work.

When it comes to burn-out, both time and workload are two big contributors. But for employees who see a real meaning in their work, when they see the effects of their daily efforts, the factors of time and workload are not nearly as detrimental to their energy levels. Finding one’s purpose leads to gratification, an easier energy flow and greater happiness.

With this process, high levels of work stress are not considered as a negative. The search for a fulfilling job is also the best burn-out prevention.

How do I find purpose in my job?

Meaning means different things for different people, as it comes from the fulfillment of one’s own values and motivations. This is also clear in the most important question I ask my clients:

  • What values are really important to me, and what drives me? What are my burning passions?

From the answers to these two questions, one can truly find the motivation and consequently, the purpose for one’s position. Answering this question is usually very difficult. But the work makes it worth it. Another helpful way to find the answer is to consider both private and professional situations in which you’ve found great meaning. What motives and values were fulfilled in those circumstances?

Take, for example, someone whose “thirst for knowledge” is the main motivator. It would be important and “meaningful” for someone like this to satiate their curiosity every day, learning something new.  With a realization like this, it doesn’t immediately point to any clear profession, which is why it’s important to ask more questions:

  • What are my talents and which do I enjoy putting into practice?
  • What interests and topics do I passionately pursue?

For someone who takes a great interest in sports, for example, and gladly writes about, researches, and networks for opportunities having to do with sports, paired with “thirst for knowledge,” would make an excellent sports journalist. On the other hand, someone who wants to share knowledge, through research, writing, presenting and analyzing facts and figures, with a great interest in politics, would make an excellent political science professor. As different as these two professions may be, they share that same core value – the “thirst for knowledge.”

When you realize that your job relates to your core competencies, and your interests, but you’re still dissatisfied, you’ll most likely not find meaning in your specific situation.

The good news is, that you may not have to entirely change your professional orientation, perhaps just the environment and guidelines in which you’ll be better equipped to find your purpose.

When you feel as though your calling is to help mankind, and improve the world, and you find yourself working in the banking industry, you could switch functions within your company and transfer to the credit department, helping to facilitate cooperations with social projects or development efforts in underprivileged areas.

But if your real passion is to help develop and encourage young colleagues, you could find more meaning in mentoring and educating young colleagues or trainees in your department.

The question of finding your right position, in regards to professional reorientation, is not about which profession is the right one for you, but rather, what goal and what kind of work will help you to find fulfillment. This goal, along with your interests and skills, will help lead you in the right direction.

What does success have to do with finding meaning in your work?

Once you discover a sense of purpose in your daily work, it leads to a complete comfort and sense of belonging: a flow and a natural engagement that helps to foster a higher level of performance.

Success will automatically follow when your work has meaning.

And once you find meaning in your work, you’ll finally value your performance as a sign of a success. The alternative to finding one’s true calling is to continue, unhappily, in a meaningless line of work, where your success brings no feeling of achievement, no value, and no real drive to achieve.

About the Author:

Nicole Billen-Schreiner für ExperteerNicole Billen-Schreiner (NBS Career Coaching) works as a Career and Business Coach in the Rhein-Main region. Sie advises senior managers and executives on all aspects of their careers, including professional reorientation, career questions and conflicts. As a former personnel manager in DAX and MDAX companies in the Financial Services industry, she knows the playbook and how to craft a successful career and can also offer insights into the recruitment process. For Ms. Billen-Schreiner, it’s extremely important that her clients rediscover their purpose, satisfaction and joy in their careers, and continue to achieve success in the long-term. Nicole Billen-Schreiner has a degree in Business Administration, is a certified Coach and NLP Master Practitioner.


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