What Work Should Be
Perseverance and Ingenuity—what great names! I’m speaking of the Mars Rover and the small helicopter that hitched a ride all the way to the red planet. After all, it took both perseverance and ingenuity from many over the more significant part of the last decade to pull this mission off.
If you’ve followed this fantastic story, chances are you’ve marveled at the images and even sounds from the surface of Mars. It’s the science fiction stories of my youth come to life, minus the canals and aliens.
Yet, as magical and magnificent as the sight of a human-made helicopter flying on Mars, I choke up watching the reactions of the engineers and scientists as their long, hard work comes to life.
They have looks of pure joy on their faces.
It’s what work should be. Creativity, innovation, collaboration, and sheer tenacity. Yes, perseverance and ingenuity!
But for many, it’s not.
Finding Purpose in Unusual Places
If we’re not involved in moon-shots or mars-shots but rather working for seemingly pedestrian causes or offerings, how do we manufacture that sense of purpose?
It’s easy, fall in deep love with the people we’re ultimately helping with our work.
I’ve found a sense of purpose at various times in my life with point-of-sales systems (cash registers), software that cleans data, and fire-alarm control panels.
Yeah, I’m weird. But think about it.
Our point-of-sale systems helped entrepreneurs run businesses. These businesses served customers, and they employed people. Dealers had to sell and service them. Our little start-up business impacted small businesses in the billions of dollars over time. It helped our dealers grow their organizations. And, it allowed the customers of our customers to deliver great retail experiences.
The purpose behind fire-alarm control panels is obvious. Smoke detectors and other life safety products connect to these devices and help save lives and protect facilities. Our products had a built-in mission.
Data that eliminates duplicates and helps get junk mail to your door on time was a stretch. Yet, with some creative rethinking, that same software helped people across government, healthcare, finance, and other arenas protect and serve.
You Can See and Hear Purpose in People
It’s always fun to encounter someone who feels a great sense of purpose in their work.
Their smiles, confidence, and evident joy in their work warms our days. They might be the clerk at the retail store who smiles and makes us glad we shopped there. Or the UPS person who sprints to my door nearly every day with energy and an enthusiastic greeting and wave. Or, our bug guy who personifies passion for his work—dealing with pests, literally—and makes me look forward to his latest lecture on the habits of ants.
What About You?
Whatever you do, look for the purpose in those you serve. It’s there!
Sometimes you just have to think about it and connect the dots.
If you lead, lead by example with passion and pride in your work. They’ll feel this and emulate you.
If you’re feeling a bit challenged by finding purpose in your work, consider this example. A colleague worked for a decidedly unglamorous paper-products company. The firm makes toilet paper—seven days a week, twenty-four hours per day.
When the pandemic hit, what were your worries?
Safety for you and your loved ones? Yes, absolutely.
But toilet paper? Well, think about it. That particular shortage scared the heck out of us.
My colleague was on a mission to keep us from experiencing the unthinkable.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
For the scientists and engineers striving to bring humanity to other places in the solar system and the many remarkable healthcare workers and scientists aiming to save lives, purpose comes easy. For the rest of us, we need the same lift that purpose provides. If you lead or manage, a vital part of your mission is helping others find meaning in their work regardless of the nature of the products or work.