When employees are asked what matters most to them, having a sense of purpose ranks high on the list. In fact, research has even suggested that some people place a greater value on purpose than they do on getting a bigger paycheck. The truth is, everyone wants to find meaning, but many people don’t know where to look. 

The reason comes down to the misconception that purpose is this huge, elusive thing. In reality, discovering purpose is rarely an earth-shattering, light bulb moment — or something you find all at once. But little by little, through taking small actions — at Thrive, we call them Microsteps — you can begin to uncover your purpose. “Purpose can be found when we’re moving toward something we care about that is bigger than we are,” says Rebecca Fraser-Thill, M.A., a career coach and visiting instructor of psychology at Bates College. “It could be a near- or long-term goal you’re working towards, along with the intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to get there.” 

Finding the meaning in what you do doesn’t just increase your motivation to get out of bed and head to work — purpose plays a key role in your overall well-being. Besides being linked to improved physical health — like better sleep, reduced risk of dementia, and even a longer lifespan — feeling like there is an important reason behind what you do can keep stress and anxiety levels in check. 

In the workplace, deriving a sense of meaning from work has added perks. Purpose makes you more productive, results in better overall job performance, and helps you get along better with co-workers. And contrary to popular belief, your career doesn’t have to be your “passion” in order to infuse you with meaning. Here are some ways to buoy your sense of purpose in any job. 

Illustration by Julia Yoon for Thrive Global.

Make a list of things you enjoy.
Start to observe all the things you truly enjoy doing and write them down. Aim for a long list, and then look for commonalities. If your favorite moments include, for example, time spent in a mentoring program you’re involved in, as well as introducing your niece to your favorite sport, then maybe you derive meaning from teaching people new things. This could be an indicator that nurturing less experienced employees at work could give you a sense of purpose. Once you identify the things that fuel you or that you’d never want to give up, you can look for ways to apply them in the workplace. 

Bring your whole self to work.
Sometimes people feel like they won’t be able to find meaning in their jobs if their “real” passion is something they do outside of work. But there may be ways to integrate that part of yourself into the workplace. For instance, if there’s a cause you’re deeply involved in — like environmental issues — look for ways to raise awareness or facilitate change within your organization. Knowing you’re helping to open your co-workers’ eyes — especially about an issue close to your heart — could give you just the dose of purpose you need. 

Connect to the bigger picture.
People get into a trap of thinking meaningful work has to be lofty (or involve saving lives), but that’s not true. People find meaning building homes, selling computers, picking up garbage — as long as they are connected to why it matters. Sometimes the key to tapping into purpose is simply to look beyond your daily tasks and connect to the big picture. 

Think about funding your purpose instead of finding it.
Remember that your job or career exists within the larger framework of your life. And for some people, their priority isn’t to find purpose at work — but to earn a living so they can find meaning in other parts of their life. For instance, maybe you’re passionate about teaching yoga to underserved populations — and your steady paycheck allows you to do that pro-bono. Or maybe your purpose is to share your art with the world, and you’ve made painting your side gig while relying on a conventional job for your financial stability. This simple perspective shift can be a powerful way to link meaning with your work. 

The Life-Work integration section includes content meant to inspire and inform Thrive Global readers and is not a part of any other partnership across both brands.  

Author(s)

  • Jen Fisher

    Chief Well-being Officer at Deloitte and Editor-at-Large, Life-Work Integration at Thrive Global

    Jen Fisher is a leading voice on workplace well-being and creating human-centered organizational cultures. She frequently speaks and writes about building a culture of well-being at work and serves as Deloitte’s chief well-being officer in the United States, where she drives the strategy and innovation around work-life, health, and wellness. Jen is also the host of WorkWell, a podcast series on the latest work-life trends and author of the book, Work Better Together: How to Cultivate Strong Relationships to Maximize Well-Being and Boost Bottom Lines (McGraw-Hill, June 2021). Jen is a healthy lifestyle enthusiast and seeks to infuse aspects of wellness in everything she does. She believes self-care is a daily pursuit and considers herself an exercise fanatic, sleep advocate, and book nerd! As a breast cancer survivor, she is passionate about advocating for women’s health and sharing her recovery journey. Jen lives in Miami with her husband, Albert and dog, Fiona.

    Follow her on LinkedInTwitter, and Instagram.