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Photo by Steven VanDesande Jr on Unsplash

This year I spoke to over 100 different people about the work they do and how they find meaning in it. Here are five things I learnt about the ways we find purpose in our work:

1 — Finding a sense of purpose is a process of balancing self and other

As Roman Krznaric told me in our interview, the twenty first century has been an age of introspection, of self-help books and looking inside for answers. Finding empathy for others challenges us to adapt our skills and experience to meet the needs of the wider world.

There’s also a point about sustainability here — often the work that is most purposeful and valuable to…

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In January 2018 I set myself an ambitious goal: to have conversations with 100 different people about the work they do and how they find meaning in it.

After two years of freelance and remote work I felt adrift. I no longer knew what I wanted or what made me feel fulfilled at work. I had been thinking a lot about purposeful work and had got so tangled in my own thoughts and ideas that it was hard to make sense of anything. My ‘process’ of finding my direction had become uncomfortably cerebral and lonely. …

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Hibernation season… Image credit: Filip Bunkens on Unsplash

Too often we expect everything all at once. But real work and real lives exist through seasons of growth and change…. and sometimes hibernation.

‘We’re human beings we’re living systems, we have to do things seasonally. So we have moments where we’re growing and really blossoming and moments when we need to hibernate.’

- Sophie Howarth, Co-Founder of The School of Life

When I interviewed Sophie Howarth one of the things that most stuck with me is her comment about working with the seasons of our lives. …

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Finding your purpose is just like finding Mr Right…

We all know the story. It happens in so many films. There’s a man or a woman longingly searching, waiting and hoping. And then finally, one day, they bump into their Mr (or Mrs) Right.

It’s such a common tale and we’ve learnt to accept it for what it is: fiction. The stuff of rom-coms. A cosy fantasy.

Just bumping into Mr Right…. Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack in Serendipity

But when it comes to talking about purpose and finding it, we end up falling for the same myth, just in a different form. …

A reading list about purpose and success

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Photo by Radu Marcusu on Unsplash

Over the last year and more I’ve been fascinated by the ways we seek and find a sense of purpose in work.

I’ve had conversations with 100 people on the subject, including a Buddhist monk, a modern philosopher, and a blind adventurer, alongside many others seeking their own sense of direction in their work.

In the process, I’ve read several books which have shaped my way of thinking — and in some cases, completely transformed it.

There are five books that stand out as having had the biggest impact on the way I’ve thought about my own sense of purpose…

According to a blind pilot and adventurer

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Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

The journey towards finding fulfilling work is often unconventional and nearly always unpredictable.

Whether you’re making a career change or searching for a line of employment that inspires and motivates you, you’ve probably spent a considerable amount of time trying to identify a new path. But there’s one problem. Such a path just doesn't exist.

A path implies a route that has been trodden many times before, but you and your career are unique. No one has made the same decisions as you or had the same experiences, and thus there is no path to follow.

I’ve spent the last…

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Where are your ‘others’? And if you aren’t working with them, why not?

One of the wisest pieces of advice I’ve been given in the last year is to find collaborators. The trouble is that collaboration is one thing I’ve struggled most with.

I have a stubborn mindset and I often feel like I must be able to find the solution myself. When working, when writing, too often I’ve found myself at a blockade and tried everything to break through — except asking for help.

But you don’t always need to ask for help. Sometimes it’s enough just to start a conversation, or ask a question. Invariably, people like to be asked their opinions. As a result of starting conversations this year I have expanded my ways of thinking and found unexpected inspiration from others.

Collaboration comes in different forms

For me, collaboration has come in the form…

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Have you ever looked up from your desk with that ringing question in your head: “What am I doing here?”

Worse still if it’s followed by questions like ‘Does my life have any purpose?’ and ‘What does it even mean to have a sense of purpose?’

Welcome to existential dread. Or existential angst.

Chances are if you’ve felt it, you’ve also questioned your sanity.

Existential dread is just not the kind of issue that comes up in everyday conversation. It’s firmly in the ‘weird and difficult’ category of thoughts.

I’ve found that only a few friends are open to talking…

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What I learned from The Hot Seat about finding meaningful work

I have a tendency to overthink, sometimes to the point of paralysis. Over the last year I’ve thought, heavily, about how I can find more meaning and satisfaction in the work I do. And, as you might expect, a lot of that thinking got me precisely nowhere.

But getting outside of my own head by hearing other people’s perspectives has been life changing — or rather, ‘work changing’.

One of the useful experiences of the last few months was featuring on the Happy Startups Hot Seat, where community members offer questions, advice and ideas in response to a challenge.


Jelena Aleksich, founder of The Confetti Project, on getting stuck — and un-stuck

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Jelena Aleksich, founder of The Confetti Project

Change is daunting.

Even when you have the best of intentions, it’s easy to fall short.

There are two good reasons for this. Firstly, because meaningful change requires commitment and persistent action, even when it feels impossible. And secondly, because all change involves loss; you have to give something of yourself — time, energy, money, freedom — to achieve your goal.

There’s also the added complication that goals move. Sometimes, what seems like a great idea at the start turns out not to be later on for…

Emily Shipp

Endlessly curious, sponge-like absorber of interesting things. Writing about meaningful work @questionsonpurpose.

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