A year ago this month, I quit a well-paying job at a fast-growing startup to build my personal business. From an outsider's perspective, the decision seemed crazy. Not only was I in an enviable position and had the freedom to choose how I work, but I was also working remotely from the beaches of southeast Asia.

Yet, something was missing.

Often when we think of motivation, we think of it as a binary: you either have it or you don't. But there are so many factors that contribute to our get-up-and-go that trying to "boost your motivation" can seem like an impossible task.

But it's not.

What New York Sewage Treatment Workers Can Teach us About Motivation.

Why is it that some of us have our "dream" jobs yet still find it a slog to get out of bed, while others in less enviable positions feel fulfilled?

According to John Coleman, author of Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders, it comes down to purpose.

John tells the story of a 2007 New York Times article about the 20th annual "Operator's Challenge" or, the "Sludge Olympics"--a competition for New York's sewage treatment workers. The article details the passion and excitement these workers have for their job, with one participant, after noting how anonymous and unappreciated their work is, quoted as saying: "It's enough to serve the public."

Similarly, I was working without purpose. It's not that I didn't believe in the company or what I was doing, but I was unable to connect what I was doing to a bigger purpose. I didn't feel like I was serving anyone but myself (and my teammates). By the end of my 2.5 years, I felt like I was simply going through the motions.

Does this mean you should quit your job and hit the sewers? Probably not. Instead, Coleman notes that purpose is built, not found.

How to Use the Job Crafting Technique to Build Purpose Into Your Career.

Existing research has shown that finding purpose in our work can improve our performance, commitment, and job satisfaction--and that employees find purposeful work more important than salary, working conditions, or opportunities for promotion.

If you want to find more purpose in the work you do, psychologists Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane E. Dutton developed a technique they call "job crafting" that can help you get there.

"Job crafting" comes in three parts, but seeing improvements in any one will help with improving your enjoyment and sense of purpose at work.

  1. Task crafting: This is the process of picking up or dropping particular tasks to adjust the day-to-day of your role. This could mean taking on a task that forces you to learn a new skill or engage with people you wouldn't normally get to.

  2. Relational crafting: This is the process of purposely creating or deepening relationships at work. For instance, you might take some time to teach new team members or get to know colleagues in different departments.

  3. Cognitive crafting: This is essentially changing the way you think about your job. A simple cognitive shift in the way you think about what you do and why it's important is an easy way to imbue your existing role with more meaning and purpose. You could even change your job title to help reflect what you see as the most important part of the work you do.

You don't need to quit your job to find purpose and motivation. A few simple exercises and some changes to the way you think can be all it take to give you the boost you need to do your best work every single day.