I suppose there are many directions one could take a topic like this, and am sure you may already be drawing some conclusions of your own. If we had a group of friends meeting at a coffee shop, and someone introduced the topic of why we work, we might see a flurry of input and emotion as people dialogued about the reasons why they work their vocation.

People work to support their family, for security, for future opportunity, to “make a living”, for certain benefits, etc. You are probably qualified to fill a number of different positions that would fulfill these types of needs.

Furthermore, the most detrimental reasons of why we work may be to gain power, fame, or money.  These are all fleeting, none can satisfy the soul of a person, or bring real fulfillment.  They may be a bi-product of our vocation, but are destructive if they are the reason why we work.  It is a recipe for emptiness, a glass never filled.

As I cruise into mid life and have had ample opportunity to reflect on building businesses, and performing humanitarian relief work over the past 25 years, there has been a settling of the mental sediment that can cloud our judgement.  It seems so clear now why some people are very fulfilled in their work, despite great challenges, adversities, and risks, while others live like ghosts with shipwrecked dreams.  Eventhough their IRA may be filled, their heart is empty.

Here are three reasons why we should work, and if they are realized, one will live a fulfilled life.

Purpose   We have to find purpose in the work, not from the work.  Purpose “in the work” may look something like satisfyling a life long dream or desire that has some social value.  My two sons and I started a coffee company as a family project a couple years ago.  At the core of it’s existance lies the purpose of lifting Haitian farmers from poverty to prosperity through economic development rather than humanitarian relief.

We could have started a number of different businesses together, and certainly ones that were much more lucrative in nature.  We could have even been in the coffee business, and worked in Haiti, without addressing this core purpose.  The purpose had to be built into the business model, it had to meet these requirements to be fulfilling on a day in and day out basis.  Without purpose at the core, success is a hollow victory.

If you have never defined purpose in your work, take time to stop, pray, research, and talk to friends who can help you find your purpose that is fulfilled through your vocation.

Impact You have to walk it out!  There has to be measurable, quantifiable progress where one can look and say “we are making an impact.”  The old adage is, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  There have been many businesses started with the intention of making a social impact, but “life happens” and people compromise their purpose for pleasures.  Sometimes we sacrifice the “giving back” portion to pay Uncle Sam, or maybe even take an extra vacation.  Whether your distraction was necessary or friviolous doesn’t matter, we can accept no exceuse in compromising purpose, and allowing ourselves to drift from impact.

If we don’t make an impact through our work, we simply live a lie, a lie that one day our work will matter to us and to others.  Making a tangible impact through your work requires effort and sacrifice, but it produces great internal reward.  Embrace the struggle and allow every day to be a catalyst for making an impact in your world.

Take time to review your purpose and measure your impact.  Have you defined an impact in measurable terms?  Are you fulfilling that which you intended to do?  Can you measure the impact you are making?  Is your impact increasing as you progress through life?  Do whatever it takes to put yourself in a position where you can measure impact from your efforts.  Get your values back on track and live them!

Contribution   To contribute is to do your part in bringing about a specific result, or helping something advance toward an objective.  Everyday is another opportunity to contribute something toward making an impact and fulfilling a purpose.  Sure there are days filled with oil changes and dirty laundry, that’s part of life.  But all competitors compete under the same rules, or in a common environment.  We all deal with the natural elements in life, get over it!  Don’t let mowing the lawn stop you from doing something today that makes a contribution.

I love to travel because at times life seems to be suspended.  You are in a hotel, and there is (hopefully) no agenda on this particular dayYou have a free pass to do something.  It’s in those times we can think, dream, and do things that create our contribution.  But that’s probably a composite of 10% (or less) of our days.  We have to find a way to make daily contributions while life is happening.

We have to reach a place where everyday we choose to make a contribution.  We make ourselves do something, big or small that will realize a gain, inbetween taking kids to school, sitting at football practice or checking on Mom and Dad.  Everyday doesn’t have to be a homerun in your contribution, just don’t let any day go by without doing something.

In closing, everyone of us would like to get to the end of our lives and say “I lived a fulfilled life”, but how we find fulfillment isn’t always the road well traveled and it surely isn’t constructed of yellow bricks.  No matter what stage of life you are in, ask yourself if the things you are doing are creating fulfillment.  Can your life be measured in purpose, impact and contribution?  This is truly why we work.