During a recent team gathering, we took a few minutes to tackle a question from a recent HBR article by Nick Craig and Scott Snook, “What did you especially love doing when you were a child, before the world told you what you should or shouldn’t like or do?”

It’s easy to dismiss a question like this. It sounds cheesy, like a forced exercise with no real objective. But, this was a more deliberate conversation. The intent was to awaken greater awareness of our life purpose and elevate the meaning and significance in our work.

“Life purpose” and “meaning and significance” may solicit more than a few eye rolls. The reality is — these are not petty things. A study led by Harvard Business Review and The Energy Project as cited in The New York Times found, “Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations — the highest single impact of any variable in [the] survey. These employees also reported 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and they were 1.4 times more engaged at work.” Yes, that translates to more money in the bank for your company.

So, how do you get to this sense of “meaning and significance” at work? Well, it typically doesn’t just plop in your lap one day. It takes some personal effort to get there. In his book The Purpose Economy, Aaron Hurst notes this, describing “job crafting” as “a conscious or unconscious process of redesigning your own job to better align with your values, strengths, and passion.”

Job crafting begins with self-awareness of one’s personal purpose, which in turn makes that desired sense of meaning and significance more accessible. The simple childhood question we explored awakens just a hint of that needed awareness. Seeing what motivated us in childhood can give us clues to make our present work more meaningful and our team contributions stronger.

Needless to say, our team’s responses were pretty amusing. Among us there was an unexpected singer, a tomboy who spent time skateboarding, an illustrator of elaborate inventions and an explorer or two, to name a few. No, we didn’t spend the whole meeting delving into the depths of who we are as people or reminiscing on those days of childhood. But, we did shed light on the natural tendencies and aptitudes that drive each member of our team. We can use our pastimes as a lens to see what aspects of our roles today give us similar personal satisfaction.

It was intriguing to see where fellow team members’ natural aptitudes stem from and how we can use these strengths more fully. For instance, Jill, our VP of operations, loved playing teacher in childhood. This now lends to her clear strength in directing and producing. David, our creative director, had an affinity for drawing in his youth, which developed independent of any family guidance. This now informs his strong sense of creative direction and self-critique.

We highly recommend pausing to consider your personal purpose and that of the folks on your team. We’ve witnessed — both in our own office and in those of our clients — the excellence in performance that deepened meaning and engagement bring. Check out the resources below to get you started. Our studio lunch is a testament to the fact that elements of this discussion don’t have to be an all-day affair.

Resources referenced
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