By Dr. Jim Bailey

During and after the Pandemic, a lot of people quit their jobs. As you might expect, quite a few (36%) left for higher pay and better benefits, but there are several reasons people quit that may surprise you. According to a McKinsey and Company survey, most people who quit jobs in the past two years have left because the job wasn’t providing the intangible things that give us a sense of purpose and meaning and make us feel fulfilled.

They identified a lack of opportunities for growth (41%), uninspiring leaders (34%), a lack of meaning in the work (31%), and several other aspects of workplace culture as significant reasons people sought alternative jobs. (The percentages total more than 100% because respondents could select multiple reasons for quitting.) The study provides concrete evidence that our society has almost totally dismissed the centuries-old notion that work is something you do to provide money for basic needs. More than ever, people are looking to their work to provide them with a sense of satisfaction and personal fulfillment. People want to play a significant role in something bigger than themselves.

It’s been 13 years since Simon Sinek’s sensational TED talk “Start with Why” first hit the internet. Now, at more than 25 million views and a best-selling book, Sinek’s talk struck a chord when he proposed that people want a purpose in their work – something they believe in and can feel good about supporting. He noted that effective leaders clearly communicate the cause that drives them or their business and that employees who share enthusiasm for that cause are significant drivers for innovation and product sales. People enthusiastically rally behind a “why” when they sense opportunities to play a role in something bigger than themselves.

When people can’t find purpose, meaning, and personal fulfillment in their work, they start looking elsewhere – usually to pleasure or distractions. I have a young married friend who, along with his wife, has vowed to work only enough to take care of their basic financial needs. The couple view the 32 or 40 hour work week as an old-fashioned idea that will prevent them from attaining a sense of purpose and meaning. They view their avocational interests and pursuits as having greater potential for personal satisfaction than what they can attain through employment. In other words, they believe their hobbies are more likely to make them happy than their jobs, so that’s where they invest their time.

As a Career Coach (and average human), I understand the desire to find enjoyment in our work, but purpose and meaning aren’t the same thing as enjoyment. Many times the things that bring a true sense of meaning in life are things that require hard work and sacrifice and come with, as my grandfather once told me, “a bit of manure to shovel.” But hard work and sacrifice are easy to do if we have a significant sense of purpose in the work we’re doing. For example, people who have great marriages or who have invested their time and energy into being proficient caregivers for their child(ren) or parent(s) are usually quick to acknowledge it’s hard, exhausting, and often thankless work. But, they’ll also tell you it’s the most rewarding thing they’ve ever done. In the end, difficult and sometimes unpleasant things are the most worthwhile if we have a sense of higher purpose in that work. It’s a counter-intuitive ROI (return on investment) proposition that most people haven’t considered.

As we venture into the unknown possibilities of 2023, rather than making rash decisions about resolutions we may soon break, I encourage you to consider identifying three places or causes worthy of investing your time and energy because they hold the greatest potential for you to find a sense of purpose and meaning. They may be personal (your marriage, friendships, health, spiritual life), vocational, or avocational (your work, volunteer activities, a passion you’ve neglected). After you write these down, consider what daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly actions or activities will be required to make the impact you desire. “All successful people take action,” so your next step will be to determine what action (regardless of its size) will move you incrementally toward attaining that impact. Focus on the action steps, and not the outcomes, and when 2023 comes to an end, you may be pleased to find you lived a year driven by your own personal “why.”

Dr. Jim Bailey is a Knoxville native with a passion for helping others maximize their lives through his career, business, and leadership coaching services. He also mentors and serves in local youth and UT ministries. He can be reached at