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Transforming Your Work

I recently read about Adam Grant, a Wharton School of business professor who studies how people find motivation and meaning at work. He points out that those who consistently rank their jobs as meaningful have something in common. They see their jobs as a way to help others.

Grant’s research offers a clue about how people working in any sector can find purpose at work—by adopting a service mindset. In one study, Grant and his colleagues tracked a group of university call-center fundraisers who each met a student whose scholarship was being funded by their work. These callers took on a different attitude toward their jobs: seeing how their work affected another person’s life made the fundraisers become much more purposeful—and more effective—compared with a control group. They spent 142 percent more time on the phone with potential donors and raised 171 percent more money.

Author and speaker Emily Esfahani Smith says:

The ability to find purpose in the day-to-day tasks of living and working goes a long way toward building meaning. It was the mindset, for instance, adopted by the janitor John F. Kennedy ran into at NASA in 1962. When the president asked him what he was doing, the janitor apparently responded saying that he was “helping put a man on the moon.” It was the mindset adopted by a roadworker who was directing the flow of traffic near a repair site on a stretch of Colorado highway several years ago. Standing in the sun, he periodically turned a sign that read “Stop” on one side and “Slow” on the other. “I keep people safe,” he told a driver when asked how he could stand such boring work. “I care about these guys behind me,” he continued, “and I keep them safe. I also keep you safe, and everyone else in all those cars behind you.” And it was a mindset adopted by a food cart owner a few years ago when my friend realized, after ordering, that he had forgotten his wallet. “My job isn’t to take your money,” he told my friend. “My job,” he said, handing my friend his taco, “is to feed you.”

The purpose of work is not just about making money. It is about making ourselves available to others so we can serve them. If we can re-orient our thinking and make this our core objective, our work will feel more purposeful. We will find we enjoy it more. When we serve our clients and customers with excellence we will also find, over time, that our lives and our work will flourish.


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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