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Finding and Cherishing Purpose

Last weekend I attended a family wedding in upstate New York. This time of year, New York state is truly one of the prettiest places to witness the changing of seasons. The weather was perfect – gorgeous skies, cool mornings and comfortable day-time temps, clear lakes, and quaint little towns bustling with the products of the apple and raspberry harvests, signaling the end of summer. 

This was my second military wedding, and I reflected on the power of purpose while experiencing the ceremony and reception. Weaving throughout the beauty and lightness of the wedding, and the celebrations of the family, was a thread related to what these two people are up to in the world. They are both officers in the Army – he’s served almost 20 years and is currently a Lieutenant Colonel with three tours of duty on the front lines in Afghanistan and in Iraq. She’s a physician with 18 years of service, a full Colonel, and also has served on the front lines.

During the fun and frivolity of the evening, and all of the traditions that come with weddings, a small, completely set table sat unattended.  The bride’s brother, also an officer in the Army, stood between meal courses and spoke to us about that table and what it represented. For those who do not return from battle, a table is set to remember them so they are never forgotten for their service, and as he spoke, his voice broke, and the rest of us silently cried with him. The purpose of the table, and of those in the room who serve and have served, was clear and consistent. Their purpose is to protect and defend our freedom, and they accept the risks associated with that purpose. I can’t imagine a greater sacrifice for a clearer purpose.

Many studies over the years have corroborated that purpose is among the top motivators and sources of happiness in any job. Dan Pink, in his book Drive, cites purpose among the top three drivers of happiness at work, along with autonomy and mastery. Does your job provide you with purpose, defined by Pink as “the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves?”

Jobs without purpose can feel cursed, and we may begin to see ourselves as the mythological Sisyphus, whose punishment for his avarice and deceit was to roll a boulder up a steep hill and watch it roll down again, over and over, for all eternity. Not being clear on your purpose also compounds the issue, and the job/boss/mission of the organization can feel hollow, unimportant, and disengaging if it does not align with your own purpose in life.

Perhaps you have great purpose in your job: It’s aligned with what you define as your purpose in life, and you are able to cherish that alignment on a daily basis. If not, perhaps you can find that purpose with a little reflection on what your company does and its place in the world, or on what you are able to do with your salary, even if your job doesn’t ‘do it for you.’ If you still come up empty handed, and you’re not happy at work, it’s quite possible that your lack of purpose is the cause of your discontent.

Each day as a coach I connect with people to help them align with their purpose by accepting risks and rewards, failure and trial as part of the fabric of each of our lives. By finding our purpose, and cherishing it, we become far more motivated and productive, and happier, too.