The Why of Our Jobs Means More Than We Think

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This is a question we wonder all the time, maybe even all our entire lives.

“What is the purpose of my life?”

Very early on in my career, this question constantly lingered in my mind as I sat on my couch watching the Travel Channel or as I analyzed spreadsheets of satellite flight data in my cubicle.

Although I was diligently making progress in my assignments, I was feeling empty internally because I could not sense or understand the purpose of my contributions to the overall scheme of things. And I am one of those people who needed to know I had direct influence in someone. I still am.

In those days, I did what I was told. Some of the projects were not only in a need-to-know basis, but they were also highly classified. So I did not bother asking why something was done. I just did it.

In retrospect, I should have asked. The worst answer I could have gotten was a no.

For those of us who are not working in highly classified environments, however, we have the right to ask why we have to do something if we do not already know. It also does not prevent us from making an educated inference when authorities refuse to explain.

In any case, the purpose of our tasks helps advance our careers, expresses their impact to perspective employers, and lifts us up.

Improve Solutions

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Too many of us carry out our duties without inquiring.

Yet, in the back of our minds, don’t we find ourselves asking who the recipients of our work are and what is it supposed to accomplish for them?

I certainly did.

When I wonder about who the recipient of my work is, I am not talking about the person who gives me the assignment. I am talking about the last person involved in the chain. This could be the team, department head, CEO, consumer, industry, or any other community at large.

Once that is identified, we then need to understand why we are working for these people and what would satisfy that why. The purpose.

The better we understand the recipients and the purpose, the better we are able to set goals and benchmarks for ourselves.

More importantly, it permits us to assess whether the tasks assigned are the best solutions to achieve those goals and benchmarks.

If we believe they are not the best, then this is a great opportunity to assume ownership, take initiative to challenge status quo, and offer better solutions.

See the Bigger Picture

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Along the same vein, acknowledging the end recipient and the purpose of our work helps us see how our contributions fit into the bigger picture.

Knowing why we are asked to do something in the first place really enhances accomplishment bullet points on resumes.

Why? How?

I frequently see bullet points that say, “assisted the manager” or “supported CEO” or “collaborated with department head”.

Truthfully, if we know why our leaders have asked us to assist, support, or collaborate with them, do we not have a part in making whatever it is happen?

Leaders request our assistance so that they can achieve their goals. And when we know their goals, those goals become ours as well and we contribute to those goals.

When we realize this, these goals become our purpose, and the purpose is often the what we are actually accomplishing. The tasks is often how we achieve that purpose.

Furthermore, our leaders’ goals and purpose eventually play an instrumental part in reaching the mission of the company, changing the game of the industry, and strengthening our communities.

Then when we write these into accomplishments on our resumes, we can skip the middle person because now our own contributions have a part in achieving those goals.

It’s a chain reaction. Get the bigger picture.

Increase Self-Worth

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People are social beings. We are hard-wired to help others.

And when we feel like we have zero effect on or — worse yet — hamper someone else, we get dejected.

That dejection demoralizes and immobilizes us. Soon, we go into work, chugging along like zombies or staring blankly at our computer screens, convinced that our work does not matter at all. It is absolutely paralyzing.

Do not go there.

When we know the purpose of our work, we find ways to integrate into the bigger picture of the company and society.

As long as that is acknowledged, approval and acceptance manifest from within. As long as we know our work is not a waste of time, we do not need recognition from others (although it would be awesome).

Self-approval and self-acceptance cultivate self-confidence.

We know we are significant members of a much larger team.

We matter.

And when we know we matter to our family, friends, and colleagues at a place where we spend 40 hours a week of our lives, we validate our own self-worth.

Live with Purpose

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The wisest may innately know the meaning of life and live it.

For the rest of us, we may have pondered about it, discussed it, or read about it, but it may still remain a mystery.

Nonetheless, if we make ourselves significant to those we care about most, then perhaps that is what life means.

To be present.

To care.

To contribute.

Contribution does not necessarily take a whole lot of effort. All it requires is empathy and understanding so that purpose is created. What we need to do is figure out how to be a part of that purpose.

Work is not just about completing an assignment. Work is suppose to fulfill goals for our leaders who are trying to make a difference in the world. The bigger picture in our communities. As such, we are part of it all. We matter.

Do this in our personal lives. Do this in our professional lives.

And that is what turns a job into a career.




Data Analyst. Screenwriter. Project Manager. Now, Resume Coach. A student of life and West Coast Swing. A promoter of self from within.

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Cindy S. Cheung

Cindy S. Cheung

Data Analyst. Screenwriter. Project Manager. Now, Resume Coach. A student of life and West Coast Swing. A promoter of self from within.

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