Got purpose in your career? Purpose is one of three critical ingredients necessary to overcome our fear to make changes in our lives.  So what is purpose?  It’s a vastly overused but important term.  Simply put, we can define purpose as it relates to our careers as “work that provides us meaning and fulfillment in our lives.”  Who doesn’t want that?  Purpose is essential to overcoming fear because it helps give us the strength to stand up to those scary monsters under our beds (our fears) on behalf of something bigger.  So, how do you find purpose in your career?  I promise to devote an entire month to that question.  In the meantime, here is a “back of the envelope” approach you can take today:

  • It can be the “what” OR the “how” of your work. You can find purpose in your work by “what” you actually do or in the “how” of what you do.  For example, let’s say you work at a children’s hospital helping to treat cancer in kids.  That’s a great example of finding purpose in the “what”.  You help kids overcome cancer.  Pretty clear.  On the other hand, perhaps you work at a “widget” manufacturer and you don’t particularly like the “what” of your work.  You might find purpose in the “how.”  Ben was in that situation.  He was an accounting manager for a large technology company.  Ben found great meaning in his work by mentoring and developing the people that reported to him.  It was the “how” of his job (mentoring and developing others) rather than the “what” (an accounting manager for a technology company) that provided Ben meaning and purpose.  Do you find purpose in the “what” or “how” of your work?
  • What need do you want to meet in the world? Is there something that gets you mad or sad in the world?   What need do you see in the world that you want to dedicate your career to addressing?  It can be as big as changing healthcare or making the world sustainable.  Or it can be as small as “helping ordinary folks be able to afford the stuff that only rich people can buy.”  Getting clarity around the need in the world you want to meet can help you to say “no” to your fears and focus more intentionally on where you want to go.  BTW, the “helping ordinary folks…” need was Sam Walton’s (the founder of Wal-Mart).  You never know where even a seemingly small purpose might take you. 
  • What do you want inscribed on your tombstone? I met a consultant a few years ago who introduced himself to me as “the pricing specialist for the tire industry.”  The best part was how he said it to me.  He didn’t say it with excitement or passion, rather he said it with this look of confusion across his face as if he was thinking “how did this happen to me?”  Purpose is a funny thing.  If we don’t answer the question of purpose for ourselves, it doesn’t go unanswered.  Someone else will answer it for us.  In essence, we would be letting someone else inscribe our tombstone one letter at a time.  So, what do you want your tombstone to say?  Pricing specialist for the tire industry?  The answer to that question can help us to put our life in perspective and give us a reason to stand up to our fears.  We don’t want our fears dictating our purpose.

There you have it.  Purpose in 30 seconds.  Our ability to overcome our fears and make the changes in our lives we want to make can be greatly enhanced with the addition of a clear purpose.  Having that picture of the life we always wanted and the difference we want to make in the world can put those fears in their rightful place – back under the bed.

As you ponder your purpose, I’ll leave you with this last question:

If you died today, what would your tombstone say?