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When you struggle with purpose: 3 facets to focus on instead
This blog may be a little unlike what I usually write about. I believe in equipping managers and professionals to be successful in their work. I have written on numerous topics primarily geared toward those in the middle who are trying to keep the boat afloat amid resignations, business demands, organizational changes, inflation, rising interest rates, and endless waves of a virus that won’t quit.
I struggled for years with what my purpose was. I spent time on retreats, attended conferences, went through exercises, which I still recommend, and read many, many books, which I also recommend. For specific titles, reply to this post. These books still line my shelves today with finding your meaning and designing a career and life to fill you up and lead to contentment….that elusive sense of contentment.
I love anything Marshall Goldsmith and Brene Brown have written, and I have been inspired by the books of Eckhart Tolle and Viktor Frankl. When I get too wrapped up in what should be or shouldn’t have been, I lean on those authors to get it together and be more present.
After years of thinking about it and even taking a few small steps to explore it, I have concluded that finding one’s purpose is too much pressure. It is too easy to get stuck in comparative mode or the “should” mode. I should be at a C-level title by 35. I should own two houses and a boat like my friends. I should be making a certain level of salary by now. I should have a corner office, etc., etc.
When people come to me with these statements, I find they have a hard time answering the question why. Why do you feel you need to be at a certain level or pay or have the materials things you listed? Most people feel a level of pressure from their families, neighbors, or just perceived societal pressure to keep up with the Joneses.
Coupling these lofty expectations with the idea that our job/career should be our life’s purpose creates unyielding pressure. I have felt this. I have felt this more than one time in my life. I have counseled others who have felt this.
The truth is your career is not your life. Even for those who feel called to the ministry or medicine, these occupations are certainly more lifestyles than just a “job”; these people still have more than their career in their lives. I feel it is critical to have more than your job/career in your life. There is too much pressure to rely on one thing for your sense of fulfillment, happiness, purpose, contentment…pick your word.
Also, a note about passion…passion is overrated. I know. Many of you may disagree with me. Of course, I can’t deny that it is wonderful to have a passion for what you do. If we set ourselves up to derive purpose and passion from our jobs every day, we will be disappointed. I know many people who like their jobs, but their passion is volunteering at their church or raising their children. Their passion is creating great pottery, but they don’t make pottery for a living. This is okay and normal.
I love Broadway musicals, but I won’t be starring in Phantom of the Opera any time soon. I love writing, but my career is not being an author; I do this on the side as it gives me great joy to share my voice and help others.
I love helping others find their best career path, but I don’t take the tact that a career needs to be solely about purpose and passion. Instead, choosing a career is more about your strengths, energy, and impact. You should feel energized by what you do and feel you are making a difference somehow. It would be best to be with an organization where you feel aligned with their purpose and values. You should feel like you belong and you have a tribe. These feelings go a long way in fitting in and feeling good about what we do.
We are complex, and there are many facets to our lives. We need to embrace this and think about purpose in different ways that don’t just include our careers. For me, the three facets I mentioned above have helped me in my challenging search for “purpose”, and have helped me choose what I do for a living:
My strengths: Strengths are skills and mindsets at the intersection of what I am good at and what I like to do.
My energy: A role that includes activities that give me energy and don’t drain me of it.
My impact: Results of my work have some impact that I care about — that means something to me.
I recommend reflecting on these three items to think about your career. Some may disagree with me. There are certainly a lot of books out there that talk about finding your purpose and the perfect career. This notion of perfection will drive us crazy and create anxiety. Striving for perfection is the shortest road to Stressville. Don’t choose that path.
I say let’s stop our stressful searches for purpose and passion. Let’s stop the “should” statements of where we should be and how much we make. Instead, let’s think about strengths, energy, and impact. And, since this is our career, we should be able to earn a living doing it.