When was the last time you felt like jumping for joy? Or didn’t hit snooze repeatedly on your morning alarm? For me it has been years…
I realized that I lost sight of my purpose, my passion, my dreams, and didn’t know how to find them again about ten years ago. I barely had time to go to the bathroom by myself (just ask any stay-at-parent with a baby and a toddler). By default, I went back to what I knew. I knew how to fix things. I knew business. First, I took over managing the finances and guiding the growth strategies of a medical practice. I assumed several executive nonprofit board positions. And finally, I was asked to come into a printing and marketing corporation as its CEO to turn it around and facilitate its sale. I was a capable leader in all these roles, but I still hit snooze every morning multiple times. I wasn’t excited about what I was doing. But I was willing to try them all to find more meaning and purpose in my work life. I was buying into the adage that if you throw enough stuff up against a wall, something is bound to stick. Nevertheless, these experiences made me realize that just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I should. As a result, I learned the very important art of saying no to opportunities that didn’t excite me.
Don’t get me wrong; this wasn’t a swift learning curve. It took me seven years to come to this realization and to start saying no. I was searching for something, but I didn’t know what it was. After I started saying no, I had more time to think and contemplate about what motivated me to get going every day. I had time to pay attention to the things that meant something to me. I started trying to rediscover my dream, my goals, my vision for my future. Looking back, I struggled to find my purpose because I was trying to find the right job, one that had already been defined by someone else. I now realize that that was never going to work for me.
So rather than focusing on finding the perfect career to move forward, I started to focus on everything that I have done, and I started to break down what I loved and what I hated about each opportunity. This provided a real breakthrough for me. I was able to move beyond my mindset from failing to find purpose and passion in an ideal career—or in a specific new life direction—to focusing on specific characteristics about jobs that I had loved. Critical qualities like autonomy, impact, inspiration, influence, enlightenment, and growth. Failing to find purpose in a specific job taught me a very important lesson: I couldn’t wait for an opportunity that someone else was creating to give me purpose. I had to identify my own purpose and create the opportunity that would motivate me to jump out of bed everyday by incorporating the components of work that I loved.
Most people, today, want meaning in work. They want more than a paycheck. Sociological research consistently demonstrates that job satisfaction is correlated with intrinsic motivators like meaning, purpose, camaraderie, and feeling like we are part of a team and part of a process that is making the company successful. In a recent article (titled “9 Out of 10 People Are Willing to Earn Less Money to Do More Meaningful Work”) in the Harvard Business Review (November 6, 2018), authors found that employees who find meaning in work:
…spend one additional hour per week working, and take two fewer days of paid leave per year…. More importantly, though, employees who find work meaningful experience significantly greater job satisfaction, which is known to correlate with increased productivity.
I believe finding meaning for yourself and your employees at work is the next great productivity wave of the twenty-first century.
But I have to be honest, simply saying that you want to incorporate meaning in work just doesn’t cut it. The thoughts and ideas on how to do it don’t come out of thin air. Finding the right words to convey your passion and purpose so that you can lead others to meaningful work can be complex. If you are anything like I was, you might not even know what is meaningful to you right now if you are experiencing burnout or stress or lack of joy at work.
So how do you find meaning for you and your staff? You can start with crafting the right messages that illustrate a clear mission for your organization. These messages need to include how everyone contributes to the success and fulfillment of the mission. And you can’t just put it down on paper and disseminate it to personnel. It must be embodied in your actions, in your conversations, and in how you approach your work. It also must be repeated frequently and passionately. If you find that you can’t articulate purpose and passion for your staff, you may need to evaluate your own personal purpose. What is it that you are trying to accomplish and why? What do you really want? When was the last time you felt like you were doing something meaningful at work? If you don’t feel it and can’t articulate it, your staff won’t be able to either.
Research shows that something as simple as crafting the narrative that makes your work feel more meaningful to you can make a significant difference. There is strong correlation between what we expect and how we feel about results. In fact, Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton coined the term “job crafting” while studying employees in various organizations. They found the staff that modified their jobs in minor ways to craft more meaning were more satisfied. For example, some hospital cleaning staff cognitively crafted a message that they were part of the healthcare team not only by cleaning, but by being observant and being there for the patients. They did little things like get water for patients, notice who hadn’t had a visitor recently to go back around, and move furniture and art to change the environment in the rooms. This kind of creativity and curiosity in work scares many employers that latch on to bureaucratic ideals of written rules and regulations, but once you get over that thinking, you can realize real innovation and opportunities to increase employee engagement, meaning, and satisfaction.
For me to find the meaning and purpose that I needed in work roles and identity, I had to stop thinking about work and specific jobs (in the traditional sense) and start thinking about components of my life that gave me joy, meaning, and purpose. I discovered that deep down, I have a tremendous desire to have an impact and to inspire others to lead with awareness and understanding. It took me time to find my purpose, but the additional time was not wasted.
It gave me the opportunity to gain more business insight and get back to sharing my experiences and knowledge with individuals taking sociology and social psychology courses at a state university. It gave me the time to become more aware of my own passions. It also gave me more time to formulate the right plan to move forward. Just in the past few months, I have branded and named a new company that I am officially launching this year to transform the environments in which leaders and organizations think, act, and respond to help them overcome obstacles, breakdown barriers, increase awareness and understanding, re-connect, and create real sustainable change. The floodgates have opened. Timing is key. I wake up excited every day thinking about the possibilities. Brainstorming with fellow writers, business professionals, sociology colleagues, my husband, and friends. I am taking my dreams and turning them into concrete actions.
We all have different dreams, different goals, and different definitions of success, and we all need to take our turn.
How do you plan to take your turn so that you have no regrets? No two paths are the same. We each have our own histories and biographies that shape our lens and the opportunities that we see for ourselves.
To get started, take time to reflect on what excites you. What motivates you to not hit snooze and to jump out of bed in the morning. Don’t limit yourself. Be truly attuned to those gut responses to opportunities. (I know that some thought leaders warn about listening to your gut, but as a business professional, I couldn’t imagine not doing a gut check. I think the visceral responses that we have to information and events based on knowledge and experiences can be very telling and should not be ignored.) If you have a negative gut response, don’t ignore it. If you have a positive gut response, don’t ignore it. Start saying no to opportunities that don’t excite you or feel like a good fit. And start saying yes to opportunities that stir something in your soul.
I finally feel like I am on the right path, creating my own company to live my purpose every day professionally. I am taking my turn. When will you take yours?
Kristin Heck Sajadi, Social Awareness Entrepreneur
Founder and CEO, SHYFT STRATEGIES, LLC
If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.