This blog comes to you more out of necessity than intention. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked a question like “How did you get where you are today?” or “How did you know what you wanted to do in life?” My answer typically involves sharing some or all of the following story so that others can identify the pieces of it that resonate with them and try some of the same strategies to find their dream job. I believe we all have a career purpose – a job to do with our time on this earth – and my passion in life is helping people find and go after theirs. As someone who has built a dream job from scratch and who gets to live out that purpose every day, I can confidently tell you there is no other way to live! Because this is a longer story, I’ve divided it into two parts: this week, I’ll cover a broader picture for how to start on the path to your purpose when you don’t know what you want to do, and next week, I’ll continue with the more specific and logistical aspects of narrowing the choices.
On the journey to your career purpose, what leads do you currently have? Around 2013, I remember sitting at my desk in my administrative job wondering what kind of career direction I should take. While I didn’t know what kind of career interested me, the one lead that I did have was that I absolutely love teaching – as in, I would teach stuffed animals if they were the only ones who would listen. I also knew that I loved learning and had a desire to get a master’s degree. So, I put these two ideas of teaching and a degree together and thought about getting a Master of Education (MEd). When my research into this degree didn’t result in favorable next steps, I looked for another lead. I found myself drawn to the office next door to me at the time, where our marketing and communications team was located. I noticed that I seemed to enjoy the marketing parts of my job more than the other parts and found myself wanting to meet with that team more often. I followed this lead and decided to get that master’s degree I had been thinking about, but in marketing instead of teaching. I applied and was accepted into an MBA program with an intended marketing concentration. I then tried unsuccessfully for a year to get into a marketing manager position. I had done all the right things – networking, obtaining a digital marketing certificate in my free time to boost my credibility, interviewing, strategizing with career coaches – but alas, no jobs to show for it. Not only did I feel like a failure, but I also felt deflated from having found what I wanted to do, and not been able to do it.
This brings me to an important lesson: sometimes not getting what you want on the path to your purpose is the best possible thing that could happen to you, because it actually gets you closer to your purpose than you realize. I believe that everything happens the way it’s supposed to in its own perfect timing. Had I been successful at my efforts to go into a marketing career, I may never have found the level of fulfillment that I have today – at least not as quickly as I did. Instead of the job I thought I wanted, I ended up in a position where I was leading a team of direct reports as a first-time manager. This position completely changed my life.
At this point I was half-way through the MBA program, and I found myself drawn to the leadership classes. Because I was in the evening program while working full time, I had the privilege of learning theories at night and putting them into practice sometimes literally the next morning with my team. The results were absolutely magical to me. (You can read more about that story here.) I could not believe how well the leadership training I received actually worked in real life, and I fell totally in love with teaching leadership and interpersonal skills to my team. I loved mentoring and coaching them on their paths, watching them develop into leaders themselves, and stepping aside to watch them shine. (I’m smiling just thinking about it!).
You may be wondering at this point why I am no longer managing teams in that organization if I loved it so much. I have a couple of answers to that question, one of which is more personal that I will be glad to share if you reach out to me directly, and the other is that I wanted to have a bigger impact than I did on this one team. It was extremely difficult to leave that role – one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – but the next lead I followed was that I felt drawn to develop, teach, and coach more people than I had access to on my one team. I felt an enormous sense of fear at the thought of leaving my “stable,”* full-time job, but thanks to a wonderful support system, I found the courage to make the leap and launched my business in spring 2018 to spend the rest of my life taking these leadership, training, and coaching practices I had developed to as many people as I could for as long as I live.
To wrap up this part of my story, I will share another lesson learned: finding your purpose is not a logical pursuit — it is an emotional one. These “leads” I’ve mentioned throughout my story thus far began as feelings I noticed and thought about, which then turned into ideas. These feelings are the way your body – or soul, or heart, or whatever you want to call it – directs you on the path to your purpose. They tell you what to lean into, what excites you, and what repels you. If you want to find your purpose, you must learn to listen to them. The following are what you should pay particular attention to:
- What are you curious about or drawn to? It could be a certain industry or function (the way that I was to the marketing team in the above story), the way somebody completes a task, a certain person who has qualities you admire, etc. Start doing more activities in this area based on whatever you do know you like, and information will become clearer as you go.
- What do you avoid or procrastinate doing? This gives you information about what your purpose is not. I’m talking about the activities that, if you never had to do them another day in your life, it would be a day too soon. You may be good at the activity but listen to the voice telling you how much you hate doing it.
- When have you felt truly alive or excited? What were you doing in that moment? What was somebody telling you? In my case, my mentor once asked me if I wanted to coach first-time managers, and the best way I can describe that feeling is that I wanted to jump out of my skin. “YES, YES,” my body was screaming at me, “THIS is what you’re on this earth to do!” The excitement in my body was so strongly trying to tell me that this was important information about what I was meant to do. Have you ever had a moment like this? The stronger the emotion you felt, the more directly correlated that activity is with your purpose.
To find your purpose, you must relentlessly follow every lead, no matter how weak or strong the lead is. Only you can feel what excites you, and only you can do this work. If you don’t do it, you will build someone else’s dream for them. Which path will you choose? Are you willing to do the work to find and live your career purpose?
*As we all learned in 2020, no job is stable, and ironically, the full-time ones where all of our income comes from one source can actually be the least stable. I learned from my mentors to diversify my income by working with multiple different clients and organizations so that if I lose anyone, it would not be as big of a blow.