I met with two business people this week. Both were the kind of people you would want working on your team: professional, committed, interesting. And both of them were engaged in work that had only the fuzziest of purposes.
It makes you wonder how much our economic reality would change if we gave everyone the benefit of a clear, compelling purpose for their work. It's hard to be productive when there is no clear criteria for knowing you have done a good job and no real (I mean something you can see!) result for doing the work. No matter how much you want to work, a 'why' makes a big difference.
It's my pet peeve with people seeking training. "We are interested in some training in NLP," the voice on the phone says. And my instincts say "run!" Because people who won't commit to a purpose are unlikely to achieve a purpose and 'some training' is not a purpose. I ask them "what will change if this training goes as well as it can possibly go." Most of the time, there is an uncomfortable silence on the other end of the line.
It would be nice if all employers gave each employee a sense of purpose and clear criteria against which to evaluate their own performance. Since that seems unlikely, the next best thing is to own your own work. "I was tasked with finding X" is not a compelling reason to do anything. Find a reason that makes senses to you, a reason that will move you toward your own bigger picture goals or that will satisfy your own values.
This isn't just a matter of 'feeling better' when you have a reason for the work you do (although there's evidence that is important). When you are clear about what you want to change in the world as a result of your work, your whole mind becomes involved in making that happen. You're not just motivated to work harder: you're motivated to work smarter. You make connections and innovations because your brain is all fired up.
Get yours fired up. Find a reason for your work and make it vivid and compelling and tangible.