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Having a Meaningful and Purposeful Professional Life


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Approximately two centuries ago, Henry David Thoreau famously wrote that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and although more and more people today are taking their professional destinies into their own hands, too many still find that their professional lives seem to lack a real sense of meaning and purpose.

Certain careers — such as being a doctor or a nurse — naturally have a lot more inbuilt purpose and meaning than many others. When working in the medical industry, you are directly and often dramatically involved in helping to attend to, and safeguard, people’s health and wellbeing.

In this sense, the medical field is a perfect exemplar for what a meaningful and purpose-driven professional life might look like. One that involves service to others, consequential actions, and more.

That being said, though, there are plenty of things that we can all do to begin reorienting our professional lives in order to make them more meaningful and purposeful, and it’s not necessary to begin retraining as a medical professional in order to achieve a greater sense of professional meaning in this way.

Here are a few things that you can do, which might help you to lead a more meaningful and purposeful professional life.

Take in pride in always looking for opportunities to do your best

Perhaps one of the most surefire ways of becoming jaded and losing a sense of meaning and purpose in your professional life — and for that matter, in your life as a whole — is to consistently do less than your best.

Generally speaking, when you underperform time and time again in a professional context, in situations where you could have done a lot better if you’d applied yourself more, you will tend to become disillusioned, to lose self respect, and to come to lose respect for the work you’re doing.

A big part of a sense of meaning and purpose has to do with consistently doing your best and aiming to behave in a way that is worthy of you, and that honours what it is you are doing.

For this reason, taking pride in always looking for opportunities to do your best in your job can really go a long way towards helping you to feel more motivated and purposeful.

So, what does it mean to “do your best?” This, of course, will vary from job to job and situation to situation, but it could be anything from taking the time to shop scrubs at Uniform Advantage to ensure that you’re well-equipped to do your best work in a busy hospital environment, to using a web blocker to be more focused when filling in spreadsheets.

Everything will tend to feel more meaningful and worthwhile when you are consistently endeavouring to do your best.

Don’t let yourself get stuck on autopilot for too long

One common feature of the human experience is that we are all basically prone to falling into familiar patterns of behaviour, and ending up in a situation where we are stuck on autopilot.

Unfortunately, one consequence of this is that it’s possible to go for years doing the same basically unfulfilling work, without really paying attention — only to one day question why you feel so frustrated, and to realise that a lot of time has passed without you proactively directing your fate.

If you want to have a meaningful and purpose-driven professional life, one of the best things you can do — in many cases — is to regularly pause, notice where you are, and ask yourself if that’s really where you want to be.

Maybe you’ve been caught in a particular rut for too long, and it’s time to finally make a change in your professional life, and to move forwards with a greater sense of intentionality.

Seek out opportunities to be of service

Very few paths to higher meaning and purpose are primarily focused on personal gain.

In fact, almost by definition, “meaning” and “purpose” tend to imply a higher meaning and purpose than just filling up your own bank account or buying a nice car.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with earning good money and buying yourself nice things, and this can certainly be a sense of motivation and enthusiasm in your life. But if you want to really develop and experience a heightened sense of meaning in your professional life, you should be on the lookout for regular opportunities to be of service.

This could mean working in a hospital, starting up a business with a charitable slant, or even creating a new app or tech product that can help a significant number of people to enjoy a better experience of everyday life in one way or another.

When you are working for the betterment of other people, in addition to yourself, everything naturally becomes much more meaningful.

Set yourself professional goals and get in touch with your own preferences

If you’re working in a profession that you just kind of “fell into” at one point or another, or if you’re working in a job that other people have pushed you towards, there’s a good chance that you will struggle to experience a real sense of meaning and purpose on a daily basis.

Although things like service to others are a core feature of living in a meaningful way, it’s also important to behave in a manner that is authentic to you, and that you can feel genuinely enthusiastic about and excited by on a daily basis.

Taking the time to consciously and proactively set yourself some professional goals, and to get in touch with your own preferences, can open the door to a much more motivating and meaningful approach to your career as a whole.

Maybe it’s time to begin retraining, and to rediscover the zest for life you might once have had, but which seems to be lacking at present.

Regularly look for the traces of meaning in whatever it is you’re doing

While certain career paths are naturally more meaningful than others, both in terms of individual preferences and interests, and also in a bigger picture sense, it’s still true that there is some meaning to be found in more or less whatever you might happen to be doing career-wise.

Even if you’re generally unhappy with your current job and find it aimless, there’s a good chance that you will be able to find some traces of meaning in what you are doing, that can help you to approach each day in a more inspired and empowered way.

If you’re a waiter at a mid-level restaurant, for example, reminding yourself that you are playing a significant role in helping families and groups of friends to enjoy time together, can add a lot of meaning to your everyday routine.

Finding the meaning in whatever it is you are currently doing doesn’t mean that you can’t, or shouldn’t, also take steps to seek out even more meaningful work, or to change your career focus as a whole.

But it is definitely the case that a more meaningful professional life can begin today, simply by changing your perspective in the here and now.

Be bold and pursue your dreams regardless of how “practical” they may seem

Many of the most intrinsically meaningful and motivating career paths that you could potentially go down, will be things that — at the outset — are likely to feel somewhat big, achievable, and overwhelming.

One way in which a lot of people get themselves into trouble and undermine their own sense of potential in life, is by essentially writing themselves off at the outset, with regards to particular career paths.

But if you really want to be a musician, or an entrepreneur, or an adventure holiday planner — or any number of other careers that may seem daunting or broadly unachievable — you’re always likely to find yourself wondering “what if?” Unless you make an attempt.

Simply being bold and pursuing your dreams, regardless of how “practical” or “impractical” they may seem, can be one of the best ways of reorienting your life so that you are living in a more meaningful and inspiring manner.

Even if you don’t succeed at a given career, simply making the attempt can be very meaningful, and can help to springboard you to other meaningful avenues in life.

If your day job is letting you down, think about undergoing additional training or starting a side venture

Maybe you need to stay in your current job for the time being, and find that job to be fundamentally dull and mostly meaningless

Instead of just resigning yourself to feeling perpetually frustrated in this scenario, you should seriously consider engaging in side activities that help you to develop the deeper sense of meaning you may be missing in your day job.

You can, for example, look into additional training opportunities on the side, whether in the form of degrees or more affordable and basic certifications.

You can also consider starting up a side business that you feel meaningful and engaging.

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