Find your purpose to combat stress

Oct 28, 2020

Are you finding that you have a few stressors in your life these days? Your dining room table is also a home office and school desk; your cat interrupts important virtual meetings with your boss; so much togetherness! Connecting to a strong sense of purpose might just help you deal more effectively with stress whatever your situation might be.

So what is a sense of purpose? Basically it's understanding what gives your life meaning. For some it might be meaningful work, spending time in the kitchen baking for friends and neighbors, and volunteering in their community. This pandemic hasn't affected the ability to bake and volunteer, but there are days when it might be hard work to find the meaningful fruits of one's labor at work. Having problems finding it yourself these days? Don't worry … you have more control than you think. You actually “create” a sense of purpose in your work life more than “find” it. If you are feeling stuck and craving a more meaningful sense of purpose at work, here are some ideas:

  • Learn what motivates you. For many of us who work in government, our strongest motivations aren't money or a desire for prestige, but making a difference to those we serve, following a passion or using our talents. Luckily for us, we have more control over those purpose-enhancing motivators than a raise or promotion. Think about what motivates you, then tie the reasons to those less-desirable tasks and projects to find more purpose in your work. For example, your Mondays might be filled with non-stop meetings. It can be a daunting way to start the work week. If you remind yourself that those meetings help you identify and prioritize meaningful work for you and your team members, then they might have an increased sense of purpose and actually energize you. Would identifying what motivates you and a change of perspective bring more purpose to your work?
  • Look for purpose in the simple moments of your everyday work life. Think purpose needs to have some big world-changing, life-altering impact? Actually, the ordinary, everyday activities and behaviors you bring to work can fill you with a sense of purpose. For example, taking time to understand the uniqueness of each co-worker brings joy and a sense of purpose to some people. This might mean providing work assignments that fit each employee's strengths, learning about their treasured pets and hobbies, or taking the time to provide personalized, specific recognition for a job well done. What daily activities present opportunities to bring more purpose to your work life?
  • Leave a work “legacy.” One definition of legacy is a gift of property, by will. What if you took that definition, and redefined it as something you possess that you can give to your co-workers of your own free will. Most of us won't leave a world-changing legacy like Edison or Monet, but each of us has unique gifts that we can give to others: our time, experience, empathy, a listening ear, knowledge and gratitude. Would being generous with your gifts bring your work life more purpose?

The truth is, we all want to find meaning and purpose in our work, but often we don't know where to look. If we change our thinking about purpose from this huge, elusive thing that involves some earth-shattering, light-bulb moment to optimizing small actions and behaviors to uncover purpose little by little, we can all develop a heightened sense of purpose that can help us deal with the stress of any crisis or disruption that comes our way.

For more about purpose, check out the full article on research from Eric S. Kim, Ph.D., a research scientist with the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health: