An Approach to Thinking About Work and Purpose

An Approach to Thinking About Work and Purpose

An Approach to Thinking About Work and Purpose

Approach to Thinking About WorkHoward Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and William Damon, are three Harvard University psychologists who worked together to found The Good Project set up with the aim of nurturing excellence, engagement, and ethics in education, preparing people to become good workers and good citizens who contribute to the overall well-being of society.

One of the strands of their work is the idea of ‘good work’. Their thinking is that ‘good work’ is good for society, defining good work as satisfying work that gives us as individuals the chance to work for a purpose beyond ourselves, an opportunity to use and develop our talents and capabilities, and to work collaboratively with people who both challenge and support us. It might be an ideal that’s a long way off, given research that suggests that a significant number of people hate their jobs and I know some of them, but I also know plenty of people who would say they are in work that satisfies the above definition of good work. I’m currently fortunate to count myself in that category too, but like most people I’ve experienced the opposite too!

Gardner, Czikszentmihalyi, and Damon came up with a quick exercise to help in thinking about what good work might represent for us and what skills and activities we might need to call on to help us get there. They called it 3M (nothing to do with 3m the company). I found it very helpful when I first came across it.

So why not give it a try now and see what comes up for you?


When you reflect on yourself, what skills, experience, knowledge, values and ambitions can you identify? Which of these do you want to be part of your future? How might you be able to use them in a future work role?

What things do you want to change? This might be new habits you want to develop, or old ones you want to drop? Or a mindset change you want to make to value yourself more and to help you do something you’ve been putting off doing.


Have you identified a purpose that you are working towards? Do you have a mission in life? It may be just to earn a living and support yourself and/or your family. But maybe there are things that you really care about, like local or global problems you want to contribute to solving. Often these broad ideas and goals can lead to a wide range of career paths and ways of working. (e.g. wanting to contribute to improving mental health; wanting to create beautiful and useful things)


Think of two or three people who you really admire and get inspired by. Maybe someone famous, fictional, or someone you have worked with, or a member of your family. What is it that inspires you about each of these people? What are their skills, their values, and their mission? How do they deal with challenging situations? How would you like to be more like them or follow their example? How might that translate into the work you do or would like to do?

You can check out the Good Project’s Good Work Tool kit here for more interesting stuff.

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