Are you looking for your purpose or are you looking for a job? A job, including being a business owner or freelancer, is what you do to generate income. Your job can be awesome or boring, lucrative or underpaid, inspiring or soul sucking. Your purpose, on the other hand, is much bigger than any job or business you create. The best jobs are the ones that feed your purpose.
Do you hate your job? Do you wake up unclear about what to do for a living? Do you feel a bit (or a lot!) resigned to having a great time outside of work while feeling miserable in your professional life? Do you draw a blank when thinking about what to do next?
Start by looking for your purpose first, then get back to your job search. Why? Because fulfillment and satisfaction come from knowing that what you do for a living is not only enjoyable, but aligned with your values and purpose. Some people solve this conundrum by reframing their work as just one of the many things that they do in their lives, emotionally distancing themselves from their profession. If this were you, I doubt you'd be reading this blog 🙂
How do you find your purpose?
Let's start by defining what purpose means. Merriam Webster offers the following definition:
1 a : something set up as an object or end to be attained : intention
b : resolution, determination
2 : a subject under discussion or an action in course of execution
Not very helpful. You could easily mistake your job ("something to be attained") as your purpose. When we look at Merriam Webster's first definition for English language learners, though, here's what we find: "the reason why something is done or used: the aim or intention of something."
If you are stuck not knowing what you want to do for work, the issue might be that you are yearning to find your purpose, but looking for a job. Your purpose is the container within which a fulfilling career lives. Looking for a job before you fully embrace your purpose is always going to feel wrong, because when we refuse to choose or recognize our purpose, we are fundamentally disconnected from our deepest self, and cannot therefore "feel" what is right for us.
Most people already know what their purpose is, but refuse to embrace it. When it comes to work, we tend to focus on money, status, get into survival mode, we talk about purpose in terms of "business" purpose. But for a lot of us purpose has a much deeper meaning: our purpose might be to be part of a loving family, to help those who are less fortunate, to live a life of integrity, to be able to fully be present and enjoy every moment. Our purpose doesn't care what job pays more, or whether we become a manager in our 20's. Our purpose is what our spirit needs.
What if you know your purpose, but right now you cannot be aligned with it? Let's say you value spending time with your children, but cannot find a job that provides you with the work/life balance you need. Or you have to work two jobs, making it impossible to carve enough time to be with your family. Even if now you are stuck, it is imperative that you recognize and embrace your purpose. That recognition will release a lot of the energy you currently use to suppress your hurt around not being able to live your purpose, and give you an extra push to change your situation, whether on an individual level, or by joining others in bringing about broader societal change. Embracing your purpose will also make room for self compassion, kindness, and increase your ability to feel love for yourself and others.
Here are three questions to ask yourself:
- What values are you most important to you?
- What values have you been consistently prioritizing throughout your life? Look back and you might see that you have often experienced a push and pull between what your mind said you should do - be responsible, get a job; study business, etc. - and what your spirit yearned for.
- What do you really need to feel fulfilled? The key here is to be very clear on what is a real need vs. what I call a "smokescreen need." For example, some people get stuck because they think they need to provide their kids a certain income, but no matter how much money they make they never feel it's enough. At the same time, they are unable to have the relationship they want with their children. Their focus on making money then becomes a smokescreen: what they need is to put time into their relationship with their children, but feeling uncomfortable or inadequate, they try to compensate by making money. Until they switch their focus from making money to making time, from being an excellent worker to being a parent who is present, from looking for external validation to feeling an inner sense of self worth, they will keep feeling unhappy, and their family life will hardly get better.
One of the reasons why so many people are unhappy in their careers is because we have all been living in this illusion that work is separate from the rest of our lives, that we can ignore our values at work - It's just business - and yet feel fulfilled. This lack of integrity, this failure of integrating all parts of ourselves, is what keeps us miserable and stuck. In order to get out of it, you don't just need a new job, you need to drop deeper into yourself and reconnect with your purpose, embrace it, own it, make it the bigger context within which you look for what to do next.
Lastly, you need a little trust: trust that there is nothing wrong with you. Your purpose is not "wrong" or trivial, but a calling. In the words of Joseph Campbell: "Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging."
Find your purpose, and then look for your career.
What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments!