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Finding purpose in work?

by: Samarth Bansal | 9, December, 2021

I like to understand the thought process and motivation that leads elite workers to quit their stable, comfortable and well-paying jobs. What are the driving factors? What’s the push?

In his autobiography, American politician Pete Buttigieg recalls the moment he decided to quite his job at McKinsey. He recounts the time in 2010 when he was putting in around sixty to eighty hours a weel on a project about North Americana grocery pricing — and realised he did not care about the work he was doing.

The fundamental purpose of his work mattered to him, which led him to quite and find something else.

In his own words:

Occasionally, I had worked that hard on a campaign or on my studies, but it felt strange to put in those kinds of hours not for a cause but for a client. I wanted to do a good job for my team, my firm and my client—but this wasn’t life-or-death stuff. And so it may have been inevitable that one afternoon, as I set Bertha (desktop computer) to sleep mode to go out to the hallway for a cup of coffee, I realized with overwhelming clarity the reason this could not be a career for very long: I didn’t care.

For purpose-driven people, this is the conundrum of client-service work: to perform at your best, you must learn how to care about something because you are hired to do.

For some, this is not a problem at all. A great lawyer or consultant can identify so closely with the client, or so strongly desire to be good at the job, or be so well compensated, that her purposes and interests and those of the client become one.

But for others, work can only be meaningful if its fundamental purpose is in things that would matter even if no one would pay you to care about them. No matter how much I liked my clients and my colleagues, delivering for them could not furnish that deep level of purpose that I craved.

Once I understood this, I knew it was a matter of time before I had to find another career.