Purpose at Work

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Why we’re getting out of bed in the morning to brave the long commute, getting stuck in rush hour traffic only to be cooped up for 8+ hours in a sealed office environment without access to fresh air or something pleasant to rest your eyes upon is one of the mysteries of the modern age.

Those are formidable obstacles to a happy and healthy life which have to be overcome and yet many of us do just that every day. Why would we do that?

Most think it’s for a straightforward reason: gotta pay for rent/mortgage/school fees/dinner, or a variation along the lines of sex, drugs and rock’n roll (the latter usually before marriage and kids).

But is that really why you’re working? Or is there something else, besides, or quite often even instead of the money? Is there something bigger at work here, a purpose behind all this?

Does what you do at work have purpose? What purpose does it have and how do you know you have it? Why is having “purpose” at work even important and what purpose for working beyond making money is there anyway?

Ever woken up in the morning to another work day that didn’t fill you with anticipation, other than the “I have to go to the dentist” kind? To a prospect of yet again doing things you couldn’t see the point of, spending time on tasks which didn’t exactly grip you with the excitement that James Bond must feel when he introduces himself?

Have you ever had a boss asking you to work on something that bored you to tears, or moving you into a role that turned out to fit like a poorly made suit? Are most meetings you are attending way too long for even your super ­human attention span?

That’s why you need to know about “purpose” at work.

Another reason to know about your purpose, and one we should talk about first, is motivation. Without purpose there is no motivation. It’s where it all starts, and ends as well.


Move Yourself!

Motivation is so important because it is the “motive” force behind what we do. Once you understand it you can utilise it and it can drive you anywhere you want to go (as opposed to places you don’t want to end up in, something quite a few people seem to be engaged in and then they don’t only find themselves where they didn’t want to be but they’re bored on top of it).

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To get to the bottom of what motivation is you need to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s the “Why” that drives your emotion, and emotion is the impetus for motivation. Emotion is the thing that makes you feel anything about your work and your career. You need emotions to drive your behaviour, otherwise you’d be in neutral and like a car you wouldn’t go anywhere. The way to become emotionally engaged in anything, to shift into gear so to speak, is through the Why.


Ask Yourself!

Before we get to the “Why” let’s take a closer look at the inner workings of that little engine that is your motivation.

What motivates you, besides sex, drugs and rock’n roll of course? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Your answers to a couple of simple questions will shed some light on this:

Think about a specific time in your career or with your work when you felt most motivated and answer the following questions:

Were you feeling motivated because you were leading or managing people, because you were part of a group or team, or were you motivated because you were working independently on your own? This is called your work affiliation filter.

What was it you were doing? Were you motivated by the people, products or systems you were working with? This is you work preference filter.

Knowing your affiliation and preference filters equips you with important information when you are offered a new role (for example a sales role while you prefer working with systems, or a management role when you really do best when working independently?), when you have to complete a task which you are definitely not excited about and when you sit down for your next performance review and discuss your career development.


Understand Yourself!

In addition to such preferences (there are more than a dozen others which are important in a work context) there is one of these four motivation filters at work in every one of us: internal necessity, internal possibility, external necessity and external possibility.

That means each one of us is either driven by necessity (“I have to do this” or “I need to do this”) or possibility (looking for new options and opportunities), which is either imposed from or directed at the outside world (external) or originates within or is directed at us (internal).

External Filters

An external necessities filter is primarily motivated by taking care of his family for example, by providing them with shelter and food, or by helping others and making their lives better, like a nurse or a doctor, while an external possibilities filter will be looking to add and enhance the world around them, be that through their art, performance, or the creation of something that has not existed before.

Internal Filters

An internal necessities filter feels the need to figure something out or solve a problem because they want to know or understand or see if something works for their own benefit or interest, while an internal possibilities filter wants to explore, understand and learn new things and skills so they can share them with the world. A great example of the former is a stockmarket investor and the latter would be teachers.

Primary Preferences

Always keep in mind that when we are saying that each one of us falls within one of these filters we are always referring to someone’s “primary” preference, not that they can only act or experience within a given filter. The above explains someone’s “preferences”, in the way that you usually order a beer when you go to the pub, but occasionally a glass of wine is great too.

Which one of these preferences do you have? Is your motivation triggered Internally or externally, are you driven by necessity or possibility?

Now that you know you can call on it when the going gets tough and you feel like you need to give yourself an extra boost to get something done.

Armed with the knowledge of what your motivation engine “looks” like and understanding better what you are actually motivated by, deep down, let’s see where the fuel for it is coming from.


Question Yourself!

Are you someone who goes to work for the money, or because of the company of your colleagues, the validation you get from doing a good job, the uplifting feeling of making a difference or adding value to someone else’s life or an organisation?

It’s not as clear cut as one might think, isn’t it? It’s usually a lot more layered than just “money”, because truth be told, there are other ways you could be making a living, aren’t there?

You could be Formula 1 driver (alright, probably more likely a mechanic), or the CEO of your own internet startup (if you enjoy working 140 hours a week), or a land surveyor (plenty of fresh air there!), or a super yacht captain (more fresh air!), or a restaurant owner (in case you’re a sucker for pain, or so I’m told), or one of the Four Sopranos (no, not TV’s most beloved family of crime, the one with the arias). There are plenty of other ways to make money. So “why” do you do what you’re doing?

A good way of finding your “Why” is to ask yourself more questions:

1. What outcomes are you looking for, most importantly what outcomes in terms of your environment are you looking for? Environment being anything that surrounds or supports or sustains your life.

2. What’s important to you about your work? The five most important things?

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Does that give you an idea of your Why? Does money even feature in it? Or is something else which you hadn’t been aware of before, and now that you are, you have another arrow in your quiver when your boss asks you to stay late (not for the boss, to keep yourself motivated!).

Knowing your Why is crucial because it fuels your motivation engine. But that’s not all, because “why” we’re doing something is not the same as your purpose at work.

So let’s make our way further back towards the source of all our motivation, to the dinosaur bones and the Mesozoic jungles our “Why” fuel is made of, until we finally arrive at our Purpose (alright, alright ­ science now tells us that oil consists of bacteria and other single cell organisms which have been piling up over three billion years, but we’ll stick with the dinosaurs because they’re way cooler than bacteria, right?!).


Align Yourself!

Why we are doing something may not be aligned with our purpose at work. We might be working hard because we provide for a family and because we want our efforts to be appreciated by others, but our Purpose could be something entirely different.

Purpose is a big one and not easy to pin down with words which is why it’s best to encircle it before seizing it.

You can do this by answering these five purposeful questions about your work:

  1. What’s your role? Who are you?
  2. What is it you do?
  3. Who do you do it for?
  4. What is it you’re needing and wanting.
  5. As a result of what you’re doing, what happens to your life, your career and the company you’re doing it for?


When you are fulfilled in your career and the work you do you are clear on the answers to these five questions because you are clear on your identity, on what you need in order to do a good job, and what service and value you are adding to create results.

If the work you do forces you to live an identity you don’t want, you won’t be fulfilled and you may be sabotaging what you have been hired to do.

When someone is fulfilled in their career, when they have Purpose in their career, they’re very clear on these questions and what they can do to keep improving.

If answering any of these questions gives you trouble, or leaves you troubled, then it’s a good time to get clarity on all of them. Ask the people you are working for and with and most importantly ask yourself until you are 100% clear and certain you have your answers. And when you are and they don’t align with what you are currently doing then it could be time for a change, in your current role or in a different one.

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You can see now that without Purpose there’s no fuel to drive our engine of motivation that gets us out of bed in the morning and home to the kids (or the dog) at night, fulfilling our reason for being here on this beautiful earth, which brings us full circle, as promised. It’s where it all starts, and ends.

Now do you see how important purpose at work is?

Alice Haemmerle, on whose knowledge and experience as an executive coach and Master Trainer of Neuro Linguistic Programming this blog post is based on, is the creator of the Instant Insight Communication Systems (coaching systems using the different filters and internal strategies that are in play when we work, communicate and relate to each other) and The Communication CodeTM (showing you how to decode someone’s communication, motivation, decision making and problem solving styles).

Her husband Thomas Haemmerle has written this post.