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Drive Your Career With Purpose by Doing These 3 Things


You may be struggling to get out of bed on a Monday morning. Or you may be finding it impossible to muster any motivation for your job. In which case it might be time to do some work on clarifying what’s important to you and why.

Understanding what’s important can provide direction and motivation. It can help us enjoy our work much more. And when we enjoy our work we are much more likely to engage in it. When we engage more we create new opportunities, contribute and learn and have a greater impact on those around others. In other words, throwing ourselves into work pays dividends.

This is consistent with Angela Duckworth’s theory in her book, Grit. She finds you need both passion and perseverance to be successful. And it is so often the perseverance that enables individuals to discover their passion.

But how do we focus all this activity and reassure ourselves that what we are doing is not a complete waste of our time? Afterall, persevering in the wrong things is not all that helpful. How do we know that we are persevering at the right things?

We need a sense of purpose to channel our perseverance
It could well be we need to persevere with a ‘sense of purpose’.

Dr William Damon of Harvard University defines purpose as having three characteristics:

  • Long term – Purpose is delivered through a focus on the longer term. It is not delivered through an immediate, quick or momentary thing such as winning an ebay auction. However, you may find it difficult to think about the long term. In which case focus on what you’d like to achieve in the next quarter or half year.
  • Meaningful and personal – Purpose must be owned and bought into by the individual.  It is deeply personal to the individual and needs to come from us. There is absolutely no point in assigning a purpose to others, it just doesn’t work.
  • Not all about me – Purpose is not about one's own happiness or advancement alone. It is something 'beyond' the individual and often involves service to others.

When all 3 things are working in tandem a person is seen to be purposeful. If we can channel our perseverance with a sense of purpose we are likely to experience a greater sense of satisfaction, achievement and well being.

Helping find ‘it’
Sometimes it’s difficult to develop or rediscover a sense of purpose on our own without the help of a career coach. As a starting point there are at least three activities that might help provide that sense of purpose.

1. What are you working on at the moment that is meaningful to you?

Engaging in work that is meaningful to you is a critical aspect of creating a sense of purpose. If we have lost motivation it is often difficult to recognise which aspects of our work provide meaning. Do this by reviewing your work activities at the end of each day. Categorise each activity as either (a) meaningful (b) fun (but not necessarily meaningful) or (c) none of the above. After two weeks review which aspects of your work are delivering most meaning for you. You might be surprised.

As career coaches we work with individuals to help them build meaningful careers. When they undertake this exercise, they experience a huge sense of well-being and job satisfaction. This is particularly acute in individuals who have fallen out of love with their current job.
If you need help, use this meaning tracker here.

2. Volunteer or create opportunities to do work that is meaningful to you

Once you’ve understood which parts of your work are meaningful, refocus your work around these. According to Damon, these are more likely to involve helping or supporting another person or community– some form of service to others. For example, you may have identified that providing advice to a colleague was incredibly satisfying for you. Therefore volunteering to become a mentor will provide you with more scope to engage in this activity. In addition, if your long term goal is to lead teams of people, mentoring is a first step along your path. This could well be where the perseverance is needed. It may take a while to recognise that your day to day experience at work is a lot better than it was a year ago.

3. Use the right strengths – not just any strengths

Identify and use strengths which increase purpose and meaningfulness. Not all strengths contribute to a sense of meaningfulness but there is research to suggest that certain strengths (such as zest and hope) do. So understand these strengths and identify how to bring these out in the work you do. Tell those around you that you are working on these strengths and ask them for feedback and encouragement. This creates a positive spiral. Your colleagues also benefit by experiencing positive emotions when they give you the feedback.

Having a sense of purpose is not something that comes overnight and it is certainly possible to live a life without one. But taking meaningful steps towards understanding your purpose makes the possibility of living a life worth living attainable. At the very least, it might help you get out of bed tomorrow morning.

As a new start up we'd love to hear and learn from your stories about how you've found your purpose - pam@dynami-careers.com

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Duckworth, A., 2016, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Littman-Ovadia, H., Lavy, S., & Boiman-Meshita, M., 2016, When theory and research collide: Examining correlates of signature strengths use at work. Journal of Happiness Studies.

Written Dynami Founding Partner Pam Kennett