The movie Office Space – a comedy released in 1999 – is a meditation on finding a purpose at work. Most of the characters work for a fictitious company called Initech. Peter, the main character, is disgruntled, and trying to work as little as possible, while also trying to avoid working on Saturdays. Milton, a mumbling character with little to no purpose, keeps having his desk moved against his wishes and has an overwhelming attachment to a red stapler.
And then there is Tom, whose job it is to take customer specifications and deliver them to the software engineers. Over the course of his conversation with “the Bobs” – who are efficiency expert consultants - it becomes clear that Tom’s role is relatively useless. Sensing where the conversation is heading, Tom desperately tries to defend his position at Initech.
“What is it you say…you do here?” one of Bobs asks.
And that is really the key question the film poses. In other words: “What is your purpose?”
Prior to being a voiceover talent, I had worked for a number of organizations in various roles. Some provided more purpose than others. There was one organization where I would go to work with so little to do that I would dread going in. There’s nothing that taxes your brain as much as trying to look busy. I liked the people, I liked what the organization stood for, and there were some interesting things I was able to accomplish, but in the end, my role, as defined by the organization, provided little value.
That company was eventually forced to go under. We were all allowed to interview for positions with the company that took over its main contract. In the interview process I felt like Tom: an employee whose role is exposed to provide no value. Unlike Tom, I was offered a new role, but chose to move on, wanting a clean break.
It still took me a while, and a few careers from there, to find my purpose as a voiceover talent, but along the way I managed to find roles that offered more than busy work. Running my own business, though, offers an enormous sense of purpose. The job is creative and requires a sense of dogged determination. But you don’t need to run your own business to have purpose at work. At the end of Office Space, the characters are in a different place than they were in the beginning. Peter is working construction and is much happier, having found purpose in building something.
If you can honestly say you help people, make something valuable, or benefit your organization, you might just have a sense of purpose.