If you want to know your career purpose, you have to get comfortable with feelings.

Gasp – I know – feelings! They can have such a negative reputation sometimes, but the truth is that path to finding your career purpose is not a logical one – it’s an emotional one. To be clear, I’m not talking about being overly emotional and gushy. I simply mean you have to intentionally notice the way things make you feel as you encounter them, and then follow the things that create the more exciting feelings (while moving away from the things that create the more repulsive ones) in order to find your career purpose. Actually, if we look closer, we find that this path is more like an investigation or experiment that any researcher would conduct. You are the researcher, and what you feel in your body when you read a job description or hear someone talking about what they do is the most direct and reliable data point you can get toward finding your career purpose. 

It’s worth noting that a more logical and less feeling-based approach to seeking your next job or career is a perfectly good one that provides practical insights, and thus it is important not to disregard. However, if we’re looking for deeply meaningful and fulfilling work, the logical approach should be used in addition to the emotional one. A good career coach can help you with the logical, practical steps. You’ll enhance the look of your resume and LinkedIn with your past work experience, tailor them to job descriptions, learn the STAR interview method, and practice presenting how your experience is a great match for the hiring organization. These practical steps are wonderful for finding work that pays the bills – which is, of course, something we all need – but they are not an approach to find your career purpose. To do the latter, you’ll need to tune into how you feel, which is not something anyone can do for you – only you know what you feel. 

To illustrate what I mean, think about a time when you felt truly alive doing some activity, when time flew by quickly and you couldn’t wait to do that activity again. (The credit for this exercise goes to Marcus Buckingham, and he calls these activities “strengths.”) What were you doing in that moment? Regardless of whether you were good at it or not, it was fueling and meaningful to you. How about the last time you read a job description, or heard somebody talking about what they do –  did you feel a sense of excitement bubbling up, thinking how fun it sounded, or a sense of repulsion, cringe, and think something like “wow, I’m really glad that’s not my job!” These are the kinds of feelings I’m talking about when I say that finding your career purpose is an emotional one. You could be absolutely amazing at – and have 20 years of experience in – the thing you hate doing that drains you. If you follow a logical path exclusively in this scenario, you will get more what you hate doing. 

To find and live your career purpose, you absolutely must follow these emotional “leads,” and you must do it relentlessly. They may be small and hard to feel (like a small spark), or they may make you feel like jumping out of your body and screaming. The stronger the feeling, the closer you are to exactly what you are meant to do on this earth. Because only you can feel them, the work to find and follow them is something only you can do. Only you can keep driving, keep looking, keep trying to find these leads. It takes intentional effort and time, but the payoff is priceless.

Ready to get started but not sure how? Try searching for a job with whatever keywords you know at this time toward what you would love to do. It doesn’t really matter how close or far away you are to the exact job title – any words that come to mind will do. Read through the job description and notice what you feel as you read each section. You may want to print it out and write in the margins, or assign one color of underlining to positive feelings and one color to negative feelings.  What sounds intriguing? What sounds dull? What makes you want to rip it up and never search for that term again? Start making a list of what you notice as your data points to give you a sense of direction. This exercise can be done with any information about what a job is like – whether it’s a job description, an informational interview with a friend, or observing someone’s work. If you’d like some guidance along the way, feel free to book time to chat with me! 

Have thoughts or experience on finding meaningful work? Please share them in a comment below.

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