Seeking Purpose in Work

Woman holds a black book etched, representing purpose in work

Does finding purpose in work resonate outside of the workplace?

I heard a story recently about a guy who works for a digital print shop that specializes in high-quality, short-run orders for things like cardboard product displays and packaging. The owners of the shop needed a package designer, and one of them coaxed this guy out of retirement. When the guy started, he hobbled around with a cane and a somewhat aloof attitude. A few months later, however, he had ditched the cane and the attitude.

What made the difference? The print shop operates with a unique culture that actively values the people it employs. The guy fell in love with the people and with the work, and he re-discovered joy in his work.

One day, a co-owner was telling the employee how much he appreciated all the value he was adding to the company, and he ended the conversation with these words: “I just want you to know I love you.”

The employee broke down.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “You saved my life. I was sitting at home rotting. You gave me purpose again.”

Purpose. That word is powerful isn’t it?

Whether you earn millions or work part-time in a print shop or grocery store, your attitude will help determine whether you find your purpose in work.

Too often we forget the noble purpose of work. It not only provides an income, but things like dignity, self-worth, and joy. In fact, the true purpose we find in our work doesn’t come from the income or the status that’s attached to the job. The real value is in the work itself.

Recently, there was a significant buzz on social media because an actor who had played a minor role several years ago on a highly rated sitcom was photographed while working in a grocery store. What started as a misguided attempt to publicly shame the actor quickly turned into a viral rallying cry that honored the purpose of work.

The actor revealed a strength of his character by humbly discussing his situation. He needed to work between acting gigs, so he found a job. He wasn’t ashamed of it, nor was he publicizing it. He was just doing what, as it turns out, many actors do when they aren’t paid like the A-list, George Clooneys of the world: He found work where he could find and made the best of it.

As a guy who has worked all sorts of jobs, including in a pizzeria and on the back of a garbage truck, I can tell you first-hand that no job is beneath any of us. Work, regardless of the task, has value when we approach it with purpose, commit to excellence, and respect the people involved in it. Whether you earn millions or work part-time in a print shop or grocery store, your attitude will help determine whether you find your purpose in work.

 

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