“Build a résumé that doesn’t simply tell a story about what you want to be, but a story about who you want to be and why.”

― Oprah Winfrey

I often park in the same garage in Cambridge and, the highlight of my morning is when Keith is there. Keith is the parking attendant who valets the cars. Whenever he is working, his favorite music is playing loudly from an old laptop he brings to work. Keith greets each and every driver with a big hello and toothy grin. Day after day I would ask myself how a person could be so happy working underground without the light of day. So, one day I asked him. His answer? “ I like to brighten the day of everyone who parks here. When I do that, I feel good.”

Keith’s story reminded me of how important it is to have a sense of purpose and that the meaning we find in what we do brings greater satisfaction than a title or money. It’s not that money and growth potential are unimportant. They’re just not as central as we tend to think they are.

In his book The Path To Purpose, author and educator William Damon says, “Study after study has found a person’s sense of life purpose to be closely connected to virtually all dimensions of wellbeing.” His work has shown that we are happier and healthier when the work we do is aligned with our values, be it parking cars or saving lives, because it brings us meaning.

In 2004, Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and hired the world’s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people lived longer and healthier. In these areas that Beuttner called The Blue Zones they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States. Like Damon, Beuttner found one trait the residents of these communities had in common was a strong sense of purpose. It wasn’t better genes that led to their longevity but the fact that their sense of purpose contributed to resilience and ability to overcome life’s difficulties.

To illustrate the importance of redefining success, a conference was held on this very issue. “The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money and Power” was a conference held this month led by Mika Brzezinski, host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” and Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of the Huffington Post. “The way we define success isn’t working,” Ms. Huffington said at the conference. “More, bigger, better — we can’t do that anymore.” That system is wearing us down, Ms. Huffington said. In her commencement speech this year at Smith College, she told students, “If we don’t redefine success, the personal price we pay will get higher and higher.  Right now, America’s workplace culture is practically fueled by stress, sleep deprivation and burnout,” she said. Her answer? To create a movement that places physical and spiritual wellness as central not ancillary.

OK. So now that I have your attention. How do you go about finding work that is meaningful as well as well paying? To start, it helps to look back on experiences when you felt you were at your best. Instead of simply dreaming of what your life could be, look back at the moments that have brought you meaning and satisfaction. This grounds your future direction in concrete experiences you’ve already had. More on this in my next post.

Exercise: Think back on a time in your life when you felt that you were thriving. Write about what happened, whom you were with and what you contributed to making that experience one in which you flourished. Be as specific as you can.