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The Challenge of Finding Purpose In Your Work

A human being is not a houseplant. Yes, both entities need water, nutrition, sunlight, and continuous gaseous exchange, but a human being has a number of additional requirements in order to flourish. One of those is finding a sense of meaning and purpose.  For many of us, our job enables us to fulfill our ‘houseplant’ needs, however it fails to meet our human needs. Let’s think about how you can ensure your work brings you more than some potting mix and a mist spray.

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The Challenge of Finding Purpose In Your Work

Don’t forget that every job matters

The starting point in finding purpose in work is to know that every job plays a role in society and deserves respect on that basis. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has reminded us that without store workers, truckers, and delivery drivers, our lives would grind to a halt, and this has rightfully led to an increased appreciation and gratitude for their efforts. 

Now, how about lawyers? If they are not classed as “essential” workers, does that make they are inessential? It’s true that for the most part, society could survive without lawyers for a short spell in a way that it could not survive without, say, nurses. But in the long run, we want society to do more than survive. Without lawyers, a law-based society could operate. For example, no construction project could go ahead without the parties involved understanding the relevant regulations obliged them to do; no money could be lent without the security offered by properly drafted documentation. In this way, legal professionals also act as cogs in a machine that allows the world to function and progress.

Of course, not every job feels right for every person. It’s simply a starting point to note that all jobs play a role in their own way. 

The joy of competence

In his 2014 bestseller Being Mortal, the surgeon Atul Gawande writes about entering the medical field. He says, “You become a doctor for what you imagine to be the satisfaction of the work, and that turns out to be the satisfaction of competence. It is a deep satisfaction, very much like that a carpenter experiences in restoring a fragile antique chest”.

I think the phrase “satisfaction of competence” hits the mark in terms of explaining one of the main ways work can provide us with a sense of purpose. Gawande elaborates on this by explaining that it, “…Comes partly from being helpful to others. But it also comes from being technically skilled and able to solve difficult, intricate problems.”

In other words, having a useful skill that you can employ to help others is generally deeply fulfilling. If you’ve given your current job a good try and you find yourself unable to take satisfaction in it, perhaps you’re not in a role that enables you to use the skills you have to the fullest? For example, maybe you are a very empathetic person who is a good listener, but you’re in a job where you’re stuck behind a computer with little interpersonal contact. Well, there are people out there who, for example, are going through divorces and need family lawyers who can provide some compassion along with their legal advice. Maybe you could be there for them? 

How can you use your skills?

One thing’s for sure: you have abilities that can be put to good use. Whether you’re a qualified lawyer or an associated legal professional, your experience in the legal field will have given you all kinds of invaluable practical knowledge, as well as more intangible abilities, like experience dealing with large quantities of information. The capacities gained in the law can make a difference in whatever context you choose to apply them. And there is certainly no shortage of individuals confused about their rights, public sector bodies crying out for dedicated and driven staff, and organizations and businesses that align with your values who need your expertise. 

A sense of purpose doesn’t always have to come from our work. But it's normal to want our job to provide a bit of food for the soul, too. If you feel that’s lacking in your current position, think carefully about the skills you have, and look for a position where you can use them to improve your corner of the world. And hopefully, you’ll soon be coming into full bloom – with or without the mist spray.