Does work have to have “purpose”?

Purpose, it’s a word you would have heard more and more of recent times. Mainly because there is lots of evidence around how having purpose is good for you on so many levels. The obvious question then, is whether work has to have purpose. And, what happens if it doesn’t?


Ikigai is the Japanese word for purpose:

What you get up for in the morning. The meaning of life.

Ikigai - meaning of life




With thanks to Carolyn Tate, and her book The Purpose Project for use of the image.

For some of us, our work is exactly the intersection of all those circles:

What you love, what you can be paid for, what the world needs and what you are good at.

But what if your work doesn’t have purpose?

The “easy” answer is to find work that does allow you that purpose; that does fill all the circles. But for many, that is either a longer term project, or simply not viable.

If that’s you – where does that leave you?

I spoke to Fairsy on LAFM about this in early January. One of my key points:

Work doesn’t HAVE to be the be all and end all of life

It doesn’t have to be your reason for getting out of bed. Purpose is key, for sure, but if work doesn’t give it to you – find something in your life that does.

Sometimes, reframing work to be a facilitator of your purpose rather than purpose in itself, takes the pressure off – and allows you to see it as a means to an end.

Work can fill functions that are important – such as providing income, security and social interactions without having to be anything more.

That doesn’t mean that having purpose isn’t important – because it is. But simply, that work doesn’t necessarily have to be thing that provides it.

Work can create the conditions that mean it is possible for you to find your purpose outside of it. I know of an administrator who spends her days off creating stunning pieces of art. An IT manager who volunteers in his spare time for a cause very dear to his heart.


The key to any of this is to be conscious about what each element of your life provides.

If it’s not doing it for you, take active steps to do something different. Whether that’s reframing your current position or taking steps to change it.

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