How (and why) to find purpose in your work

Think purpose is a new-age concept? It’s actually age-old advice. Over two thousand years ago, Confucious announced that doing what you love means ‘you will never have to work a day in your life’. Fortunately for him, the world’s OG thought leader loved spending his days crafting pithy one-liners (he was also the brains behind ‘Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you’). 

It’s been a tough few years. When resilience is waning, and you’re feeling disengaged, dissatisfied, and frustrated at work, the word ‘purpose’ can skew a little too close to ‘privilege’. It doesn’t help that more recent proponents of pursuing the career you love (the likes of Steve Jobs and Maya Angelou), achieved a level of success that removed the need to work at all. 

Purpose can be much harder to find between back-to-back meetings.

Beat burnout. Rediscover your purpose.

Purpose might be a reason to get out of bed, but being challenged to identify yours? It can be enough to make you want to crawl back in. Put those covers down because your ‘why’ isn’t an abstract concept but a driving force that can keep you going. That’s right, your purpose might actually be the key to unlocking your energy stores and resilience. When times get hard, people with a clear purpose find it much easier to dust themselves off and keep moving forward. Also, they live longer. 🤯

So, here’s how to find and use your purpose to build a fulfilling career: 

It starts with you. 🫵

It’s time to ditch the limiting stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we can’t do and start identifying the things we care deeply about.  

Even if you haven’t defined them, your values are probably still the measure you use to gauge whether your life is going in the right direction. They’re also a powerful tool for making decisions about where and how you work; feel vaguely uncomfortable about accepting a new job? That’s probably a sign something isn’t quite right.

Action:

Do you value autonomy or collaboration? Hard work or balance? Generosity or self-reliance? Here’s a list of common values. Jot down those that resonate with you, then select no more than five that feel like the guiding principles you largely live your life by.  

But it’s usually not about you…

One of the most effective paths to happiness is helping other people, and our best work often begins by asking, ‘What difference do I want to make?’. By focusing on the recipient of our value, we can get clear on the impact we want to have on the world.  

Yes, we know, we sound a lot like Confucious here. Impact is such a loaded word – it makes us think of lofty visions of saving the planet or curing world hunger – often, that’s as unrelatable as inbox zero. Here’s the secret: your impact doesn’t have to be big. Whether it’s helping customers, colleagues, your community, or the environment, there are as many ways to achieve it as there are people who share your values. 

Action:

Ask yourself: Who, or what, do you want to benefit from the value you add? What do you want that impact to be? Note down your answers.

Time to connect the dots

Recently, we were at a conference, and one of the speakers challenged everyone to raise their hands if they knew their purpose. After a mere handful of people did, he asked, ‘What are the rest of you even doing here?’ Point taken. We’d all actively decided to dedicate a day of our lives to this event – we should at least know why we did it.

You’ve now got a list of values you generally live your life by. You also have a high-level idea of the impact you want to have on the world. How do they align with your current role? If you’re generally satisfied, it may be more than you realise. 

While the specifics have evolved, Kristen has always valued autonomy and growth and is driven by helping others take control of their lives. She has worked in various organisations in various industries – a few that, on the surface, have no relation to her purpose. However, she’s lived it in every job. Why? From having a positive impact on company culture to mentoring others, taking time out with her children, and making her manager successful, she’s always found a way to connect her work to the things she cares about the most. 

Remember, your impact doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be meaningful to you.  

Embrace your why

Your purpose is your secret weapon against burnout. When times get tough, work gets challenging, or you have big career decisions to make, review your values and the impact you want to have, then use it to help decide your next step.

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