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Values and purpose at work in our lives

value and purpose

Finding your way to value and purpose in your life.

Talking about values and purpose in our life’s work is nothing new. There are many “how to” resources available online providing a path to discovering them. To be able to match our values and sense of purpose with our work has merit toward feeling fulfilled in our life and longevity. Researchers who performed a longitudinal study found adults of all ages live longer if they have a sense of purpose in life.  However, if we struggle capturing our perceived sweet spot in life we can sometimes feel frustrated or disappointed in ourselves. So, how do we change that?

Gaining Perspective

Few of us will become famous for our contributions to the world, but it doesn’t mean what we do isn’t of value, or making a difference. Quite the contrary, everything we do ripples out to someone in some way. While we may not receive the accolades, the values we hold and the sense of purpose of who we are as an individual, and our actions following do have far reaching effects. We may not always see the effects of the seeds we plant, but we can find satisfaction in planting them through our actions. If we can look at our values and purpose through this lens, it provides a different perspective, giving it more room, flexibility, and creativity.

Defining or Refining Value and Purpose

What is a value?

It’s an internal compass or belief system, defining what is important to us in our lifetime. An unpleasant gut reaction is likely to result when a situation, event, and/or conversation, etc. does not match our values. We have to live and be accountable to our values. Values are at the foundation of the choices we make in life. Aligning our values with our choices can provide a more satisfying life experience. Taking it one step further, do the values we choose have the capacity to serve us well over the course of our lifetime, as well as others? All this said, it’s important to take the time to consciously define or refine our values.

Discover what values resonate with you through a Mind Tools video and the lengthy list of values to explore and choose from.

What is purpose?

Defining what purpose is through the dictionary is easy. Apply it to our life, and it can be a quandary. Purpose is rarely wrapped up in a nice and neat little package, in fact, it could be a moving target. Why? Because we are all a work in progress, morphing through the years of life potentially grooming us for one purpose to another. This is critical, because we often think purpose has to be one thing. Instead, as we begin to take action toward an initial purpose, that purpose is interconnected to other purposes. The question about purpose may be better framed as how do I get out of park, and into drive, initiating purpose, so the cascading purpose effect can begin? A little time away from the electronics and more time at the reflecting pond can help. Here are some questions for you to ponder.

  • What can you spend hours doing now or when you were a kid? What elements were, or are at the core of the activity/activities (problem solving, creating, planning, ideas, calculating, researching, nurturing, etc.)?
  • What gives you a sense of deep and long lasting satisfaction?
  • Is there something in this world needing fixing, triggering a passionate or gut response inside you?
  • What’s going to put you into action? What are you willing to do even when it’s hard?
  • What are you willing to make mistakes at and still commit to?

Another way to explore your initial purpose is through observation. As you go about your days, notice what draws you in, or elicits an emotional response, be it happy, or frustrated by the lack of something you feel is important. The word “important” is key. What is important to you? There you will begin to find answers to your purpose.

Matching Values and Purpose

What does it mean to match our values with our purpose? For the most part, our values are able to align with our purpose, and our purpose can reflect our values. We don’t feel conflict in who we are and what we are doing. What we do supports who we are. There is no doubt of the magic that can come to life when we match our values with our purpose in our professional work. They are a complimentary couple. Even when there is a perfect match, challenges can still occur. Challenges are yet another opportunity to evolve what we do with our values and purpose, sometimes bringing us to the cascading effect of another purpose.

What if you can’t?

Some people due to family or financial commitments may not be able to merge their defined values and purpose into their professional work. This doesn’t mean we cannot bring our values and find purpose in our current work. Sometimes our values unknowingly create our purpose at work. If one of our values is kindness, bring it to work, and share it with others. Our purpose might be to make people smile as a result of our kindness, creating a better work environment. If we want to leave a legacy, we can leave things better than we found it. What small things can we do, or what of our values can we contribute? The point is, our values are portable and flexible, and can be shared with others, thereby creating purpose unto itself. Perhaps this is one of the most priceless purposes of all, giving of our self in some small way, planting seeds that just may create a ripple effect out to others. Often we won’t know, but we do know we turned our values into action. By doing so, we made a difference.

Finally, if there is a purpose that cannot be fulfilled our professional life, we can always incorporate it into other parts of our life. Perhaps it will become a stepping stone to living that purpose professionally. In the meantime, foster that passion through hobbies and volunteer work until you are able to combine those areas with your professional life.

Resources for further exploration:


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Challenge yourself to make YOU a priority! Seven is a free program from Health Promotion and Wellness for students, faculty, and staff that focuses on the importance of the seven dimensions of wellness: emotionalenvironmentalintellectualphysicalsocialspiritual, and vocational. Seven runs from September to the end of April, and you can join at any time. Participants log wellness activities to earn points toward monthly prize drawings and compete toward end of the year overall point totals. Participants also receive the Seven e-newsletter and information on campus wellness events.

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