In my last article - Part 1, I explained why Purpose became a big topic lately. It is about the world we live in and the factors that play a role in putting Purpose into the spotlight. So that one was about all outside factors.
This time, I want to say more about how hearing about Purpose too many times affects us personally; the inside factors.
Why do some of us feel a cringe in our stomach when people tell us find your Purpose, find work with meaning?
After working with with hundreds of clients over the years, reading lots of research, getting training, learning from pioneers, here is what I found out:
1. For Baby Boomers and Gen X the formula given for work was simple: you find a job that hopefully pays you well where you can work for 25-30 years and retire. Work was a means to an end to make money. You were not supposed to like it. If you did, you were one of the lucky few. So the notion of loving or even liking your work looked like luxury.
2. From the surveys I have conducted and read from others, most of us do not believe such a thing exists: loving your work or finding purposeful work. They are just a hype of our times. It is not realistic. Work is work. The problem is we say this without trying to look for one or doing the work behind it. It is easier to believe this than to do the actual inner work.
3. Fear is again the most important factor. What if we do all the work to find out what we love, our strengths, our purpose and then still do not pursue it? It will be even worse; we will feel like a failure. Again it is easier not to do anything.
4. Purpose sounds too emotional, too soft for the work world. Work is serious business. We should not seek it at work but elsewhere.
5. We don’t know what our Purpose is, so all this “hype” makes us feel like there is something wrong with us. We think we are missing out or some thing is missing in us. Why don’t I know what my purpose is? This is usually the worst part that nobody wants to talk about.
6. We think Purpose needs to be a big deal. Something that will change the world, shake things around and even make the headlines.
None of these reflect the truth. They are only our habits and beliefs. If we start questioning them for what they are, we may come up with different answers.
We have evidence on work life from the past. We also have evidence the work as we know it does not work. Engagement rates, the number of people who want to leave work, the average time we spend on one job all are variables that are measured pretty consistently now that shows there is a fundamental shift in how we work.
So what do we do?
First and foremost, there is nothing wrong with anyone who does not know what her/his purpose is. We were not raised to think about it. We never spent time on it and/or did not have the tools to figure it out. It was never the norm, especially at work. We did not have the advancements in some of the science fields as Positive Psychology and Neuroscience that showed us how and why we behave in certain ways. So stop judging yourselves first. It is OK to start wherever you are. This is just a different time.
Second, Purpose does not need to be something that makes the headlines or shake the whole world. It could be any work, paid or unpaid that embraces more than your personal wishes. It could be helping your children raise their kids, it could be helping one homeless person, it could be staying healthy, it could be to write the poems that are hidden in you, it could be giving a few hours at a nonprofit that is working on a cause you care about, it could be keeping the school clean as a janitor making sure children come and leave school without worrying about hygiene.
The only thing we can actually do is to get out of the status quo and question what we believed in for all these years and ask ourselves questions like:
“May be there is a way to find work I love. Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to at least invest some time figuring it out?”
“I can see from my children it is a different world out there. Can I figure out what I want for the rest of my life?”
We can also allow ourselves not to know what our purpose is. It does not mean anything unless we make a meaning out of it. There is nothing wrong with you if you have no idea what it is. Most people have no clue.
The last two questions you can ask yourself only to hear your own answers are:
What would it look like to find work I love and find meaningful?
What would be the impact of never even taking the time to look into this question, when I am sitting at my porch at age 95?
If you see no negative impact, you are fine. Do not sweat it. We all want something different out of life. If you feel like you will regret or missed out on something important though, then it is never too late go ahead and work on the answer now. There are people like me who has many tools in their boxes to make this process easier.
Do not make a big deal about the word “purpose” because it can be heavy. It simply means doing something you care about that is meaningful to you!