Bored at desk
Bored at desk

Finding Purpose in Our Work

One of the wisest men I know once told me that a person’s perspective is of critical importance because it impacts the way we see the world. It impacts our priorities and the way we approach life. He told me if you want to see long term change in a person’s life, you must first change their perspective.

One of the world’s great architects was a man by the name of Christopher Wren. He designed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London which was built between 1675 and 1710. During construction, everything was performed by human labor since there was no machinery or equipment to assist them with their work. There were hundreds of workers on the job.

Mister, what are you doing?

One day Wren was examining the job site, where the workers were grinding away at their laborious task. There was nothing enjoyable about it. Suddenly, Wren noticed an older man who was mixing cement in a mortar box. The man seemed to be enjoying his work, he had a smile on his face. As he watched this man mix the mortar, he finally asked him: “Mister, what are you doing?” The man replied, “Sir, I am building a great cathedral to the glory of God.”

I am sure that most of the men working on the cathedral saw their work as drudgery and considered it as nothing more than a way to make a living. However this older man had a completely different experience because of his perspective.

He saw himself engaged in a noble task of great significance and it changed everything.

Adjusting an inner vision for outer success

For many people, in order to find purpose in their work, they have to change their perspective. Dr. Tom Morris shares a great example of this in his book, The Art of Achievement. He tells the story of Nick Campbell, an engineer with Johnson & Johnson, who found his work to be pure drudgery.

He was working entirely for himself, thinking only about what was good for his career. But he wasn’t getting the rewards or promotions he so desperately wanted. Every day was full of frustration. He hated Monday mornings days in advance. Coworkers even called him “B.A.” for “bad attitude.”

When he was twenty-nine, back surgery took him out of the fray and gave him time to stop and think about his life, his attitudes and his mental approach to work. He came to realize that what he had been doing had not been working, and so he would have to change. Reading some of the best business and motivational literature, he began to understand the role of attitude and inner visions for outer success. As a result, he decided to use his imagination to envision his work in a whole new way, and that inner change made more of a difference than he ever could have imagined.

Nick began to think of himself as working for Campbell, Inc. – a wholly owned subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. He took emotional ownership of the equipment in the lab, checking it at the end of the day to make sure it was clean and ready for the next morning. He then decided to see himself as being in the customer service business, and to view all of his associates as his customers. If he could help them solve their problems, he would have a successful day.

He started coming to work with a completely different attitude of expectant challenge, helpfulness and emotional investment. And he started enjoying his work for the first time ever. People soon were thanking him for what he was doing. He was feeling a new pride in each day’s work. And in the midst of this, he was summoned to his supervisor’s office. At first he worried that perhaps he was being perceived as taking too much time from his primary assignments in his efforts to help solve others’ problems. But there was no cause for anxiety. Because of what he was accomplishing for the whole department, and in recognition of his new level of commitment, Nick was promoted two levels. The prize that had eluded him when he sought it directly now was being handed to him for what he was accomplishing in service to the other people around him.

Nick Campbell’s life and career were transformed when he developed a new perspective, which lead to more creative thinking and a new sense of purpose in what he was doing.

Create a memory. Bless someone’s life. Look for those moments

Barbara Glanz is a motivational speaker and tells a wonderful story. It was at an event where she addressed three thousand frontline workers for a grocery store chain.

Barbara was speaking on how people can make a difference. She described how every interaction with another person is a chance to create a memory, to bless someone’s life. She talked about how important it is to look for those moments.

After she finished her speech, she left her phone number and invited the people at the conference to give her a call if they wanted to discuss more about something she had said.

About a month later, Barbara received a call from one of the people at that session, a nineteen-year-old bagger named Johnny. Johnny proudly informed her he had Down syndrome and then he told her his story.

“Barbara, I liked what you talked about. But I didn’t think I could do anything special for our customers. After all I’m just a bagger.”

Then he had an idea: he decided that every night when he came home from work, he would find a “thought for the day” for his next shift. It would be something positive, some reminder of how good it was to be alive, or how much people matter, or how many gifts we are surrounded by. If he couldn’t find one, he would make one up.

Every night his dad would help him enter the saying six times on a page on the computer; the Johnny would print fifty pages. He would take out a pair of scissors and carefully cut three hundred copies and sign every one.

Johnny put the stack of pages next to him while he worked. Each time he finished bagging someone’s groceries, he would put his saying on top of the last bag. Then he would stop what he was doing, look the person straight in the eye, and say, “I’ve put a great saying in your bag. I hope it helps you have a good day. Thanks for coming here.”
A month later, the store manager called Barbara.

“Barbara, you won’t believe what’s happened here. I was making my rounds, and when I got up to the cashiers, the line at Johnny’s checkout was three times longer than anyone else’s. It went all the way down the frozen food aisle.”

The manager got on the loudspeaker to get more checkout lines open, but he couldn’t get any of the customers to move. They said,

“That’s okay. We’ll wait. We want to be in Johnny’s line.”

One woman came up to him and grabbed his hand, saying,

“I used to shop in your store once a week. Now I come in every time I go by – I want to get Johnny’s thought for the day.” Johnny is doing more than filling bags with groceries; he is filling lives with hope. He is touching people’s lives.

Most of us probably do not think that bagging groceries could be a purposeful occupation. However, once Johnny realized that he could bless and encourage others, his job that seemed so unimportant became quite significant.


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