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Tired of Hearing About Purpose? (Part 1)

I get it. Including me, so many people write about it, talk about it like never before.

It is important to understand why Purpose comes up so often though.

Being in this space for a long time, I wanted to elaborate on two aspects of these Purpose conversations.

  • This time (Part1) I am going to explain the why behind much interest in these discussions.

  • Next time (Part 2), it will be about the personal whys behind feeling tired of hearing about it.

As soon as Industrial Revolution took place and people traded their time for money at work, we accepted “work” as a means to an end. It was supposed to be hard and even suck at times because we were told work only exists to make money. We needed to separate work and personal life. We were even told to hide some of our personal experiences and emotions to stay “professional” at work.

These concepts worked for a few generations because for the most part, people gained stability and security in return. They knew how much they were going to make every month. Some kept the same job for 30 years and got to retire with savings that lasted a lifetime. After 1980’s some dynamics of the workplace started to shift. Companies started hiring contractors to save money by not providing all the benefits they gave to their employees. The short term value for shareholders every quarter became the norm to evaluate a company as successful or not. Companies found cheap labor in other parts of the world. As the businesses had bad financial returns, they started laying of people in hundreds and sometimes in thousands. These practices started to be the new “normal”. We just accepted these silently knowing we need money to pay the bills, the mortgage, and all our other needs. Most of us did not see any other alternative.

After a decade or more of this, people started to see they are dispensable. It was easier to lay off people than getting rid of office furniture in most cases. There is no security at jobs and you can be laid off any day at any position you hold even if you did nothing wrong and your performance rocked.

This slowly led to looking for new and better jobs constantly even when you had one. This translated into less engagement at your current job. Laid off ones got their hearts broken and decided they will do something on their own instead of giving the control of their fate to a supervisor at work. Being an entrepreneur did not seem so risky anymore; jobs are pretty risky too. People lost their loyalty for companies for a reason. Companies showed no loyalty to their people.

In the meantime, Millennials were watching. Especially during the recession that hit by 2008, they saw their parents getting laid off. Some lost their houses. Being so connected with the rest of the world in the internet age, they were also following all the bad news about Enron, United Airlines, Wells Fargo and all the others that did not treat their people so well and in same cases harmed the planet for sheer profit maximization. I laugh when people call this generation “entitled” or “spoiled” without ever looking at the facts of the world they grew up. They leave their jobs more often and criticized for not being loyal. We need to remember companies were the ones that stopped being loyal first. (Yes, as always there are exceptions to the rule; sometimes they can be very impatient but there is a reason for that too which I will not go in detail here.)

They have awareness and consciousness around what is happening in the world. They ask the most important questions like Can I find meaning in what I do? Can I do something that will matter to this world? Can I be an entrepreneur as a reflection of my purpose? Can I find work I care about instead of living for weekends? Who should I buy from? Do they treat their people and this planet well? They are more purpose-driven as consumers and as workers. This is all good for our world. Crazy norms that did not serve the humanity will be fixed by these very questions.

So as they speak up and their numbers grow, the push for more Purpose in the corporate world is undeniable.

The people who gave their hearts and soul to their work and got laid off also stop and question the meaning of life. If you add the maturity that comes after 30s and 40s realizing our time is limited here, we also question how to spend our working hours as middle age workers. Do we want to be in the daily drudgery? Was it worth spending all the time at the office while I missed the most important milestones of my children? What matters the most in life? What can I do in my second act?

I have a lot of statistics and reports that show how finding meaning at work makes you happier and healthier too. So no matter what your age is all generations now seek more Purpose at work. It is not a hype.

The work as we know does not work anymore. The separation of work and personal life was never a good idea. We are all trying to find the new terms of working, not only people like me who speak, write and do cultural transformation but all big entities like government, education institutions, organizations are putting a lot of thought into it. They have to.

Science fields like positive psychology and neuroscience shed a light on how we behave and what makes us happy. Purpose is the most sustainable form of happiness. So we cannot deny who we are as human beings anymore. That is why we search for something meaningful now. One era is closing and another one is starting.

Going back to our core and how we are wired pushes the conversations of Purpose even more. This is a big fundamental intrinsic need we all have even when we are unconscious of it. Now it is all out in the open and many people are talking about it.

Next time I will say more about why all this talk sometimes irritates us personally. This time I wanted to give you the context of the world we live in and why our conversations are changing. Hope it sheds some light.

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