I spend my days helping people work out what it is they want to do with their life. It seems this is the biggest stress and struggle for many people as they try to meaningfully participate and contribute their skills and talents.
Doing the hard work to uncover what truly drives people will eventually result in action. When we are able to live with a sense of purpose it brings incredible freedom and motivation.
Dan Pick, author of Drive has said that humans need three things to be motivated: autonomy, mastery and purpose. And I believe this to be true for many of the people I work with wanting career direction, especially among young millennials and people who are fed up with the 9-5 treadmill.
Even though most people have stacks of options, they still get stuck choosing what it is they want to do. Without doubt they want to be autonomous, get really good at their craft and do it all with purpose. We want to know the world is going to be a better place because of where we invest our time and energy.
Finding your unique purpose
When I ask people what their strengths are, immediately they list of all the things they aren’t good at. This is pretty normal. When we do this, we quickly erase a whole stack of things which removes the clutter, and takes us closer to what our career future will look like.
But going through and discovering the strengths you have is more important. Figuring out what you are good at is essential to moving forward.
Beyond just identifying your strengths, there’s something even more important, and that’s finding your unique purpose.
“Our unique purpose is that gift we have that allows us to do stuff that nobody else can do.”
It’s the thing that makes you stand out above the crowd and makes you an individual. Your unique purpose brings you alive, it gives you energy and it invites you to do work that matters without getting bored, tired or stressed.
To find your unique purpose ask this simple question:
“When I look at my peers, colleagues, friends and family, what is the one (or more) thing that I can do that none of them can?”
When you pit yourself against those around you, what makes you stand out? What could you keep doing long after everyone else has given up? What marks you as an individual?
In the interest of transparency, this was my list:
- An ability to quickly connect with new people and new groups
- The skill to see a way forward in complex situations, to complex problems
- Write and speak words that evoke a response
- Think outside the box with gentleness and grace
I’ve italicized the words that give an insight into what my ideal work environment would look like. And so if you string those words together, it would be something like…
“Travis can quickly connect with people to see a way forward in complex problems by communicating skilfully and thinking creatively outside the box, all with a gentle heart.”
If I am able to do most of those things most of the time in my job, then I would be happy. On the flip side if I only do those things a bit in my job, I’d be incredibly frustrated and should begin considering an exit plan.
Now you may come up with a long list, or you may come up with just one thing. The trick from here is to find work/career that allows you to do that ‘thing’ most of the time. We can’t ever do a job that we love 100% of the time. That’s just unreasonable. But that figure should be somewhere around 80-90% if we are to do work that helps us be content and live with meaning.
For me it’s why I’m in the coaching area and working towards making this more part of my working life. It fits within my unique purpose and it’s what makes me tick.
To make this exercise really hum, identify what autonomy, mastery and purpose mean for you also. When you add these four things together you have incredible direction that will leave you more energized and in a place where life and work becomes an absolute pleasure.
And from what I’ve discovered, no amount of money or climbing the corporate ladder could ever take its place.