In these sometimes crazy — and far too often, disturbing — times the meaning and purpose of our work (and life) has become more important than ever before. Businesses are reinventing themselves. For many, individual and family priorities, goals and aspirations have shifted. It all begs us to look within and question our purpose, mission and what drives us in our current role and career path.
I love to recount a story that I read many years back and share in our coaching work.
Dennis Jaffe and Cynthia Scott in their book “Take This Job and Love It” refer to a story of three stonecutters in a courtyard, each chiseling and cutting stones. A stranger approaches and asks the first stonecutter, “What are you doing?” He bluntly replies, “Can’t you see I’m cutting stones?” The visitor moves quickly to the second worker and asks, “What are you doing?” The stonecutter warmly replies, “I’m working so my family can live and grow.” The stranger then asks the same question of the third stonecutter who proudly replies, “I’m building a cathedral. Each stone I cut goes into a house of worship that will last far beyond my life.”
Look at how differently they felt and how they described the same job. The first worker was abrupt and indirect. The second expressed satisfaction and was proud his work was providing for his family. The third cutter saw his work in an entirely different light, almost spiritual in nature.
Using these three workers as examples, how do you view your work? What does your work personally mean to you? Have you taken the time to think about or revisit your values, mission, vision, and goals in life? Do you believe that you can achieve your career and personal life goals?
The bottom line is that we must all create our own inner source of energy, a deep sense of purpose in our work and life. We can direct our energy and attitude towards a positive and rewarding vision of the future.
However, the reverse can also be true. We can use negative and defeatist attitudes and actions to create a self-fulfilling prophecy and attract failure in our personal life and career. What do you want? What should you do? Why do you want to do it?
The answers to these simple yet complex questions provide the motivation for our work and career direction. Remember, our success, creativity and level of productivity depend as much, if not more, on our inner sense of purpose as on our external rewards, such as salary.
Here’s one powerful exercise, a hack of sorts, that we’ve previously shared and is worth sharing again. It will help to get clarity around the purpose and motivation for our work and career direction. It’s the foundation of one of the more revealing, compelling, and challenging self-awareness assignments that any one of us can take on, which is why we ask it of all our coaching clients.