The world is full of sayings like “carpe diem” and “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Ask anyone who’s lost someone to an untimely passing can tell you that there’s a lot of truth to these sayings; we only have one life to live, and we don’t get to know in advance how long that life will be. While it may be easy to put a quote like these on a mug or post them on social media, I find the inspiration doesn’t last more than a split second. If you’re like many of the people I’ve worked with lately who are craving more fulfillment in the work you do, let’s start with a deeper and more meaningful question: What story will you write for your life?
To clarify what I’m asking in this question, let me share a few similar ones: When you look back at the end of your life, will you be proud of the choices you made? Will you feel that you’ve done everything you could to live your best life and serve others? If you found out next week that you had (heaven forbid) a severe or terminal illness, would you feel you’ve lived the life you were meant to live?
The great news is you have full control over what your story looks like. The more challenging news is it will take dedicated work to write the version that gives you fulfillment and joy from a life lived intentionally (spoiler alert: the work is worth it). Each of us has a unique set of gifts that only we possess — nobody else in all of time, including all of history and all future time, will have these same set of personality traits, skills, and passions. If you’re willing to give the world the gift it is waiting for that only you can give, then you must do the work to find what that is (we’ll call this work your “career purpose”).
Finding your career purpose is very much related to your life purpose – it’s just one WAY in which you accomplish that purpose through the work that you do. Your career purpose is not different than your life purpose; it’s just a more specific version with the addition of how you will accomplish the purpose in exchange for payment. You can carry out your career purpose in any number of ways, and that work will be deeply fulfilling to you no matter what format it takes or how you accomplish it. As an example, when I opened my business, I thought it would be a coaching business. Yet when I started to let my network know about what I was doing, I started getting in requests to give talks, and some of the requested subjects were ones in which I had little experience. I had two choices: tell them that I was not a speaker, but a coach — or follow my purpose and let go of how I accomplished it. I am passionate about helping emerging leaders, so when asked to give a talk to a group of new managers, the answer was an easy yes despite the fact that I did not consider myself to be a speaker. I was clear on what purpose I was navigating toward.
If you’re wondering what your career purpose is, and not sure where to start, know that there are clues all around you that typically take the form of ideas and emotions. (I mentioned in a previous post that the pursuit of your purpose is not a logical one — it is an emotional one.) Once you set out on the journey to identify this purpose, you have two main jobs: 1) notice these clues, and 2) follow them more than what the logic or all your friends say to do. By that, of course I don’t mean make frivolous decisions without considering the consequences. What I mean is, for example, if you’re looking to get a certain certification, and you keep getting advice to do one kind but you’re truly more interested and excited about another (and it won’t make you completely bankrupt or otherwise hurt you or others badly to do so ?) then do the one you’re excited about. That emotion you feel is a compass toward your purpose – the work you’re intended to do on this earth. Notice it and follow it. This isn’t, by the way, an absence of reason. In his book The Body Keeps the Score, author and psychologist Dr. Bessel van der Kolk states that “[E]motion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to experiences and thus are the foundation of reason.”
Only YOU know what excites you or repels you, so only you can find and follow those leads. With this one and only life you have, my question to you again is: what story will you write for your life?