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Simon Drury shares some insights into the continuing need for personal significance, particularly after leaving the usual workplace.


Why we work

Work is an integral part of our lives. It enables us to establish our credibility in society, demonstrate our skills and capabilities and achieve our goals and aspirations. It affords us the opportunity to express our individuality and our commitment. Many of us use it to validate who we are and it can help us derive a sense of personal identity and meaning. Indeed, we often define ourselves through our work or career.
A huge part of our waking (and sometimes sleeping!) lives is consumed by work. If we were to unpack the concept of work, we would discover that it is a great deal more important to us than perhaps we are aware.

A motivational perspective

Apart from the requirement to 'do the job', whether we are employed or self-employed we seem to have a need for more than that. Extensive research into the psychology of motivation has given rise to a number of human need theories. The widely-held belief in all of them, whether the needs are physiological, educational, emotional, spiritual or social, is meeting them consistently, on a sometimes daily basis, is critical to our sense of wellbeing. Indeed, the pursuit of achieving satisfaction of our needs underpins our thinking, our language, our behaviours and actions and, at a fundamental level, our choices.
"The need for 'contribution' can play a part in both business and personal may even motivate us to leave a valuable legacy of some sort"
Further study reveals a set of deep human needs or core needs that so many of us seek to satisfy through our work. These needs play a key part in our life's experience and, when we are considering retirement or the 'next chapter', can impact our decisions and emotions in a profound way. What are these needs and how do they manifest themselves? More to the point, how do we satisfy them?
For example, we all require a level of 'certainty' in our lives. This need is based upon predictability, control, surety and security. We try to make our world as predictable as possible, to a lesser or greater degree, so we have a sense of being in control.
The need for 'contribution' can play a part in both business and personal life. Based upon the need to make a difference, to give something back, to 'do one's bit', it drives us to give of ourselves in a variety of different ways. It may even motivate us to leave a valuable legacy of some sort.

The deep need for significance

The need for 'significance' is based upon personal value, importance, individuality and is fuelled by the ego. It can manifest itself as the desire for recognition and status. It drives competitiveness, the desire to succeed and even the need to own top of the range items, such as cars and designer clothing. Sometimes we have a desire to be different from the rest of society. The need for uniqueness shows up in an extraordinary array of behaviours, such as, wearing unusual clothing, acting in an outrageous way and being eccentric.
The nature of the recognition we need varies from person to person. For instance, some of us want global and public recognition for our work whereas some of us are happy with a quiet pat on the back or approbation from our boss or a loved one.
Interestingly, observations have identified a strong correlation between significance and contribution for many people. When we make a valuable contribution we feel satisfied and when we get recognition for that contribution, our desire for significance is also satisfied.
Whatever the nature of the need, they tend to remain throughout our lives and therefore have to be continually met.

And after work?

Although we refer to the stepping away from our normal work setting in later life as retirement, in truth, it's more about creating the next chapter in our autobiography. Without our work, we are likely to be motivated to find alternative ways of satisfying our needs. Many people go into the voluntary sector. Those of us with a high need for significance will become trustees, chair committees or become important figures in clubs, associations and local politics. Many look for part-time or even full-time work.
"So long as our significance need is satisfied there is a sense of fulfilment and meaning in the experience. The converse is also true."
The big questions, when we are about to step away, particularly for those of us who are used to corporate life, are, 'How can I achieve the status and recognition I need, now?', 'What can I do and where can I go?', 'How do I want to show up in my next chapter?'
So long as our significance need is satisfied there is a sense of fulfilment and meaning in the experience. The converse is also true. Failure to meet the need results in frustration, a feeling that something is missing and we can become seriously and chronically demotivated.
Identifying, understanding and evaluating our needs, especially those we have satisfied through our work, will help us create the most meaningful and fulfilling remaining part of our lives. Discovering areas in our 'retirement' that will give us the opportunity to maintain the necessary level of satisfaction is fundamental in giving us a sense of wellbeing, value and purpose.
Simon Drury BSc, BA is founder of Art of Reinvention and creator of ‘Personal Significance in Retirement’, a range of mentoring programmes that help people achieve the status and recognition they desire. You can watch further examples here. He is a business psychologist, mentor and coach 

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