What does the word purpose bring to mind? A reason for being, feeling fulfilled, making a difference? Why should getting older make this seem more unattainable? What has changed? As a mid-career professional, do you find yourself asking who you are, where you fit or how to make the most of your life? If so, you’re not alone.
When you first started your career, you probably had a planned trajectory with a purpose in mind. Somewhere along the way, however, your circumstances (or your motivations) may have changed. What you valued twenty-five years ago may be vastly different from your current considerations. How you deal with change (or transformation) can affect all aspects of your life and how you find purpose.
Need a reboot?
If your sense of purpose needs a refresh and you need to be inspired, how do you begin? Is there a manual for this?
First, some inspiration: Since we are in the season of graduations, it seems fitting to explore a few of the overarching lessons learned from the award-winning address of Professor Clayton Christensen to the 2010 Harvard business school graduating class, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” Many have found his insights valuable not only for recent grads but useful to revisit for those further along in their careers. He passed away in January 2020, making his words even more poignant.
“Create a strategy for your life. …keep the purpose of your life front and center as you decide how to spend your time, talents, and energy.”
“Are you allocating your resources to the things you would have once said mattered most?”
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”
“Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people.”
Find Your Purpose
Now let’s talk specifics. In her article “Five Steps to Finding Your Life Purpose”
in Psychology Today Dr. Tchiki Davis offers key steps to exploring your purpose by asking yourself the following questions.
- Is there anything that touches you so deeply that it drives you?
- What energizes you?
- What are you willing to sacrifice for?
- Who do you want to help?
- What do you love to do? And how do you apply this passion to your purpose?
Dr. Davis stresses that “finding your life purpose is a lifelong journey. “It's OK to take it one step at a time. It's normal to pause and reevaluate regularly. And it's OK to feel overwhelmed. Nothing worth doing is easy, and this will not always be easy.” There will be ups and downs as you go through the process, but it’s worth the effort.
What Motivates You?
What motivates you is behind your drive or purpose. As Daniel Pink, author of the New York Times bestseller “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” says “The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”
Mid-career is often the time when people begin to question their purpose on the planet and what more they can do to make the world a better place. My former coworker Mark took the leap from the corporate world to join the management team of a non-profit organization supporting those going through treatment for cancer. He had felt a pull to work in the nonprofit world after volunteering, which then led to fundraising and managing roles. Others look to businesses that are doing good, such as Certified B Corporations (B Corps), which are adding value to their employees, the local community and the environment. Over 3,000 companies in 150 industries across 71 countries have joined this movement of business as a force for good. They include Ben & Jerry’s, allbirds, Danone, Eileen Fisher, Hootsuite, and many more. B Corps are well worth checking out.
We are living in a period of incredible change. A bright spot to remember is that in chaos and uncertainty, change and positive innovation can emerge. Knowing your purpose can point the way to bigger and better things.