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  • By: Brian Liu
  • Jul 27, 2022

Finding Purpose at Work

Personal purpose tends to be a big, philosophical and soulful concept that is crystal clear for some and completely murky for others. What makes purpose even more elusive is that it can change and mature with your life stages or as your personal values evolve through experience. The search for one’s sense of purpose might even seem unnecessary when so much in life is uncertain and changing.


But there is value in having a sense of your purpose. It provides an anchor and direction when you face ambiguity, change and even crisis. It can provide stability and even a sense of identity. And because most of us spend the majority of our lives working, over 70% of people feel that their sense of purpose is defined or derived in some way through the work they do, according to research by consulting firm McKinsey.


Taking myself as an example, as a learning and development professional, I have honed my expertise and mastery in communication, facilitation and training. With my set of skills, I find a great sense of achievement in helping and seeing others improve and develop through the programs or sessions I run. I also extend and manifest my purpose in providing pro-bono facilitation and training for non-profits, youth communities and schools.


Beyond my work at Lazada, I have also built my brand around youth and community development. I get a sense of fulfilment when I get to share my experiences and insights on the topics of people and leadership development at industry, community and school events. This continues to add to my sense of purpose of wanting to see people grow and improve.


Finally, being a people manager is an absolute joy for me. I thoroughly enjoy working with my team and love the camaraderie that we have when we work toward the same goal. At the same time, my sense of purpose is fulfilled when I get to see how each of my team members improve and experience their own breakthroughs, which lets me know that I am privileged to be living out my purpose here at work.


Drawing from my own experiences, I’ve identified three key areas – as well as some guiding questions for each – that can help you discover more of your purpose through work. These include:


Your expertise

In your job, you are undoubtedly learning and sharpening a particular set of skills, gradually achieving higher levels of mastery. This in itself is very purposeful for some people. They find pride and contentment in achieving a black belt or formal recognition for their expertise in certain areas. Taking this further, they might find a higher sense of achievement and fulfillment at work through teaching, training or coaching others in their field of expertise as an extension and deeper manifestation of their purpose. To begin to explore and self-reflect if your purpose might lie in this space, ask yourself: “How would I feel if I am an expert in my field? What would I do with that expertise?” 


Your personal brand

The roles you’ve held and the companies you’ve worked for all contribute to your personal brand. Over time, your colleagues and other peers in the industry will see you as a subject-matter expert in a certain field or form a perception of who you are as a professional. That is your brand.


You could be seen as an entrepreneur, an innovator or even as a creative. Some of us might have cruised through our work experiences having never considered what our personal brand is. Some of us might see ourselves in a certain way, but this self-perception is not aligned with how our peers and the industry see us. Some questions to help you explore purpose through your personal brand are: “What is my personal brand? What do I want to be known for in my professional circles? What do I stand for in the marketplace?” Once you get clarity around these questions, you can go deeper and ask: “What do I want to use my brand for?” to determine how you might cultivate and derive purpose from your brand.    


Your team

Whether you are a people manager or a member of a team, the team experience is where a lot of individuals find meaning and purpose. A good proportion of managers derive a strong sense of contentment, pride and even joy in managing and developing their team. They love the opportunity and challenges in leading a team to achieve things together. In fact, being a leader becomes a big part of their identity.


On the other hand, people also find equal amounts of joy and meaning in being part of a team that is close-knit, supportive and shares knowledge so that every member is constantly learning and growing together. Being in community like this can totally fill up a person’s tank in a deep and meaningful way.


Questions to explore to help you find purpose through your team include: “What comes to mind when I think about managing my team? How would I feel if my role was switched to an individual contributor role and my manager is managing me remotely?”


It is important to remember that you might discover your purpose through one, two or all of the three areas above. At the end of the day, purpose is intentionally discovered, and I believe that it’s a worthwhile journey and process. As you gain clarity on your purpose, you become a better leader, team player and professional. You will be surprised how having a sense of purpose at work can guide you to create a positive impact not only in the workplace but also in the communities around you.


Brian Liu is the head of learning and development at Lazada Group.

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