Here’s a news flash: In today’s world, work and life are intertwined beyond separability. We’d love to work longer, more productively, with more passion, and live that way too. Which is why a study published in May 2019 caught my eye.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by a team of University of Michigan researchers. The team analyzed data from the 27-year-old Health and Retirement Study (a U.S.-based, nationally representative well-being study) and found that one thing led to people living longer.
That one thing is inescapably interwoven with happiness, fulfillment, and maximum productivity at work.
Working and living with a sense of purpose and meaning.
The researchers found that those who had meaning and a sense of purpose (as measured by answers to questions from well-being self-assessments) lived longer lives than those who'd self-reported little to no sense of purpose and meaning.
Other University of Michigan research (2010) clearly shows that working with a sense of purpose and meaning leads to far greater engagement, motivation, productivity, and retention.
Purpose is the profound “Why?” Having it creates a sense of mission to do something worthy. It’s your significant “yet-to-do” in life. Purpose integrates who you are with what you do. It inspires us to renew our commitments and stretch further to manifest it, which is why having a sense of purpose in your work is so powerful.
So the case for working and living with a sense of purpose is crystal clear. But how to enable that?
One word: introspection.
In my book Make It Matter, I shared a set of introspective questions, the answers to which can help you identify your work and life purpose. I’ll share a selection of those questions here. To unlock your purpose, consider each of the following:
1. What are your superpowers?
Don’t be modest. You know what you’re really good at. How can you leverage that strength, like a superhero, to do good for the world? When you choose to use that strength towards a purpose, something bigger than yourself, it elevates to superpower status.
2. What are your values and beliefs?
What do you most strongly believe in--to the extent it helps guide your everyday actions? Staying true to those non-negotiable values is one of the simplest, most direct ways I encourage people to work and live with a sense of purpose.
And when people at work see you unswervingly living your values, even in times of adversity, it’s downright inspiring.
3. What would you do for free?
Pay attention to what you’re doing when you lose track of time. What do you daydream about? Those things you get absorbed in can be signals of something you were meant to do and that if you pursued further would bring profound meaning.
4. What have been your happiest moments?
What were you specifically doing in those moments and what about them brought you such joy? Look for themes. The common threads can provide clues as to what your purpose might be.
5. What have you learned from career misfires and triumphs?
Wrong turns in your career, while also being valuable learning experiences, help you bring the contrasting triumphs into focus. Reflect on what was happening during both misfires that brought pain and victories that brought joy. Who were you in those times? What did you excel or flounder at? Clues to your purpose lie within.
6. What deed needs doing?
What is your cause? What problem needs solving? What does the world need that you're well suited to provide? Note the higher-order, bigger-than-you, nature of each of these questions. Our purpose often feeds something greater than ourselves.
7. What would co-workers miss if you weren't there?
This speaks to those inspiring, magnetic characteristics you have that others are drawn to and well-served by. What would be missed could be telltale signs of what you can perpetuate and accentuate in service of your purpose.
8. What would people say you were meant to do?
What characteristic would others feel compelled to speak about in your absence? What have others said about your talents? Have you ever heard the phrase, “Wow, you could be a ______”? Still more clues on the path to purpose.
So be purposeful about discovering, articulating, and living and working with purpose. Lots of things will be longer (and deeper)--your work, life, happiness, and fulfillment.