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Aligned Thinking: Make
      Every Moment Count
      Sample Chapters

Work Doesn’t Have Much Meaning Anymore

Fifteen minutes that can change that

by Dr. R. James Steffen, SSA International


Jim Koerner found his work challenging at first. He was delighted for the paycheck that supported his new family.  He went to work with real motivation.  With his above-average motivation Jim was an above average performer. He was rewarded as an above-average performer.  Over time as his family grew, he felt the need for more still money.  The old job was becoming old hat.  It was no longer the challenge it once was.  He needed a change

His next job was great at first.  The newness gave Jim a significant challenge and the bigger paycheck was very satisfying to him.  But as the years wore on, this job also seemed to lack meaning.  He told a friend, “My work doesn’t have as much meaning as it once did.  I feel like where my inner fulfillment should be, there is a hole. My motivation is way down.”

The friend said, “I can’t give you an immediate answer, but I can suggest someone that can.  I have this great coach.  The company hired him to help me be more effective.  But he does so much more.  When I shared with him a problem like you have, he shared with me the one critical element to increasing my inner fulfillment.  Today I see more meaning in my work, and I’m more motivated than I ever was.  My coach has the ability to ask questions so he will help you discover the answer to your problem within your own experience.” Jim took his friend up on the suggestion and made an appointment with the coach.

The Right Questions To Ask
After Jim explained his situation, Coach said, “From my experience when people are missing inner fulfillment, motivation and meaning in their work it usually points to one simple critical thing.  Mind if I ask you a couple questions to see if this is true in your situation?”  Jim agreed. Coach asked Jim the following questions:

When you say you have a hole where your inter fulfillment should be, what do you mean by inner fulfillment?

Do you know where the meaning and motivation in your actions and life come from?

Do you know how to optimize or make the meaning and motivation in your life as great as possible?

Jim looked at Coach and said honestly, “I’m not sure of the answers to any of those questions.  If  I want to optimize my inner fulfillment, I need to know what it is and where it comes from.  Can you help me get started by figuring out what is inner fulfillment?”

What is Inner Fulfillment?
Coach said, “I had a group of company presidents who also wanted to know the definition of inner fulfillment.  We did research with 150 of their fellow presidents and their significant others.  We found that inner fulfillment is:

Being active,
Doing meaningful things,
Both with a sense of progress.

“So Jim, which of those three do you think is the key or the most challenging?”

Jim replied, “Anyone can be active.  In my present job, I’m very active even when I’m not motivated.  And anyone can experience a sense of progress if you work at something long enough.  For me, the challenge is doing meaningful things.”

Where Does The Meaning of an Action Come From?
Coach seemed delighted.  “Jim, you hit the nail on the head.  The next part of your challenge is deciding where the meaning of your action, and therefore your life, comes from.  I will give you three situations.  Then, I want you to tell me where the meanings of your actions come from and how to make the meaning of an action as great as possible.”

Situation One: Suppose I go to the light switch and turn off the lights in here.  Would this be very memorable, meaningful or emotional for you?”

Jim thought a minute. “I might wonder what you are doing.  We would still have some light from the window.  It would not be very emotional.”

“Good!” Coach said.  “Situation Two: You receive a call from the President.  He asks you and your wife to come to the White House on December 5.  He says for all your work on his campaign, he would like you or your wife to flip the switch that illuminates the Christmas Tree on the White House lawn.  You go, and your wife flips the switch.  Would that event be very memorable, meaningful or emotional for you?”

Jim smiled at the thought. “We would probably never forget it.  Yes to memorable, meaningful and emotional.”

Situation Three,” Coach said smiling with Jim’s correct answers.  “A nurse kills 21 old folks in a rest home.  One was your mother.  You are invited to flip the executioner switch on the electric chair.  You are so angry, you accept.  Would flipping that switch be memorable, meaningful or emotional?”

Jim made a face and said, “It would certainly be all three.  I don’t know how I would feel.”

Coach continued, “We have three situations where the action is identical, flipping a switch.  However, the meaning and emotional influence on the doer is tremendously different.  So were does the meaning of our action come from?”

Coach’s questions led Jim to the following insight, “It is pretty easy to see the meaning and emotional influence of our actions come from the reasons or purpose why they are done.”

Jim’s Insight Applied to Work
Coach pointed out to Jim that the bigger his purpose for working, the more value in the purpose to give the individual action and your life meaning.  Consider the following.

Figure 1


Small Meaning








In Figure 1, the value of what this person wants, i.e. his purpose, is small, possibly limited to himself. The possible meaning of his actions and therefore his life is limited by his own small value and purpose.

Small value and purpose = small meaning


Figure 2


   Large Meaning






In Figure 2,
this person wants valuable things for himself as well as for others.  This person’s purpose is larger than self.  Because of the larger value of what he wants and works for, his successes have much more meaning and do not suffer from the limits of the person in Figure 1.

Larger Value and Purpose= Larger Meaning


Taking the above into consideration, the bigger is the purpose for working and the more meaning in the work.

The Smart Thing To Do


It is to our enlightened self interest

to create as large a purpose in life as possible.



What We Can Learn From Jim’s Situation
With Coach to guide him with his insightful questions, Jim created a work mission or purpose for working that was huge.  This simple fifteen minute activity of creating a new huge insightful work mission turned out to be a triple win for Jim.

To receive immediate help in creating your own huge, value filled work mission in just fifteen minutes go to SSAinternatinal.com/atinow.  Do Step 2a.  Your Virtual Coach will ask you the questions. The site is free for the first fourteen days. Your Virtual Coach will assess how you use your time and build a program to help you get the most from your time and your life.

Win #1 – Motivation Came Back
With Jim’s new value-filled purpose for working, the work did not change.  But Jim’s attitude did.  Jim work life changed. When he ran into difficulties, he easily related overcoming these problems to serving his customers better and sending his kids to college.  His clear purpose for working made it easier for Jim to regain and sustain his old motivation.

Win #2 – The Most Meaning in His Life
Putting up with some of the unpleasant characters Jim had to deal with became more than just getting through unpleasant situations.  Because Jim could relate this activity to his value filled purpose for working, he could see in overcoming these challenges that he was providing for the family he loved.  Simple actions that were meaningless even annoying before, now took on the value of his huge purpose.

Win # 3 – Inner Fulfillment is at an All Time High
Since Jim could see how each action was making a difference, at times ever so small, in the lives of people he served. As the meaning of his actions increased so did his inner fulfillment.  He thought back to Coach’s definition: inner fulfillment is being active, doing meaningful thing with a sense of progress.  Many a day he went home tired as before, but now very fulfilled.  Jim’s job had not changed.  Jim had.  All his actions were aligned to his new value-filled purpose for working.  Jim thought to himself, “My entire work life has changed because of Coach’s 15 minutes of guidance creating my value-filled purpose for working.”

The Critical First Step


Write a work mission, i.e. your purpose for working,

that has as much value for you as possible.


Why Write It
Writing it is critical for two reasons:

Ø First, writing will help you clarify your value-filled purpose, as nothing else will.

Ø Secondly, once it is written, you can review it regularly. This will help you align all your actions at work to your work mission.  That will help you optimize your inner fulfillment, meaning and motivation.


15-Second Summary – Your Take-Home Value

Work does not have much meaning anymore.


1. The value of your actions, and therefore your life, comes from the value of the purpose that motivates them.  An unclear purpose can give little value.

2. It is to your enlightened self interest to create the largest possible, most value-filled purpose or mission for working.

3. Put this work mission or purpose in writing and review it regularly.  This will help you clarify and remember it so you can focus all your work related actions to your value-filled purpose.

Results You Can Expect
Focusing all your work related actions to your value-filled mission or purpose will help you optimize your motivation, meaning and inner fulfillment.

Future Problems
How do you go about creating a value-filled mission or purpose in just 15 minutes?  Some have not succeeded in doing this in years.  This will be the content of the next article in the series.  However if you want immediate help, see the box above on the right.

If you have questions about this article, the series or how to get more from your time and your life, write me at: rjsteffen@SSAinternational.com. In your subject, refer to this series Align Your Time With What Your Really Want. 


© Steffen, Steffen & Associates, Inc 2005

The material for this article comes from Dr. R. James Steffen’s new book: Make Every Moment Count; How to get the most from your business and personal life and make both a celebration.  To read a few chapters or more articles go to SSAinternational.com.  The insights for this article and Dr. Steffen’s new book comes from his work with 140 Fortune 500 Companies to help their employees get the most from their business and personal lives.  He is available for seminars and workshops on this material. Call 203-740-8400 or e-mail rjsteffen@SSAinternational.com.

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