You’ll work harder and better if you feel a sense of meaning or purpose to what you do.
We all want our lives to have meaning and to feel like what we are doing is what we were born to do.
We all have something within us that is ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be taught, learned or duplicated. If you’ve ever heard the axiom, “Be yourself — everyone else is already taken,” then you know the importance of listening to your calling and following it.
Consider this for a moment — we spend 80 percent of our lives in the grind. That’s a lot of precious time wasted if the work you’re doing doesn’t align with who you are and what you can offer the world.
I’ve worked with hundreds of leaders and companies over the last ten years on articulating their purpose and infusing that purpose into the brands we build for them. One commonality I’ve seen again and again is that discovering our purpose is a process most of us won’t allow ourselves to fully participate in. We tend to surrender to the trappings of life, the expectations of others and the pressures to conform to the demands of daily work. When you look at what you do for income — unrelated to your purpose and disconnected from your passions — whether by choice or by circumstance, you undoubtedly feel a sense of emptiness.
Purpose is a powerful career and life catalyst. Once understood, it becomes the driving force around which all of your behaviors and actions align. When this happens, it’s amazing how much more alive you feel. You begin to make a difference in other people’s lives just by fulfilling what you were born to do.
It’s often in the midst of our work that we find the best clues for our calling. We must actively search for our purpose and clear a path for it to emerge. Fulfilling careers and life’s work are not happenstance. People who live their purpose do so because they assume responsibility for their journey. Nothing shapes us as much as the questions we ask ourselves — or refuse to ask.
Here some points to consider as you embark on the journey of discovering purpose in your career:
- Seek meaning before success. Success is a result. If you put too much weight behind it, you lose sight of the real driving force, which is to live your purpose and create meaningful work for yourself and those around you. Seek meaning first — the successes that follow will be that much sweeter.
- Show up to serve. You should first show up to serve others. We often give to get, but we have it backward. Purpose is about giving and sharing with others so that they may gain. Your knowledge, kind words or ideas can be a gift to someone else. Show up to give; it’s the reason for being.
- Don’t be a slave to the ordinary. This is a mantra that my company, Motto, has adopted. In life and in business, you’re always presented with opportunities to either fit the mold or break it, to fall in line or buck the status quo. You may know in theory that “different” is a competitive advantage, but fear of failure keeps you bumbling around in the sea of sameness. In order to be remarkable, you can’t be a slave to the ordinary.
- Don’t have an excuse for your life. You never want to look back on your career and regret that you made excuses. Your passion can never be substituted, so go bold, dream big and chase what fills you. Commit yourself to your purpose and give your heart fully to it.
- Remember the fire in your belly. My parents have always been influential in my life because they were also entrepreneurs. I grew up with an entrepreneurial spirit that practically made it impossible for me to work for someone else. I even got fired from Dairy Queen when I was 13 years old. Over the years, my parents both gave me inspiring advice, but there’s one thing they used to say that always stuck with me. Anytime I became discouraged or talked of giving up, they reminded me: “You can go on, and you will. Remember the fire in your belly — it will be the one thing that sees you through.”
- Alter your perspective. Consider this legendary story about President Kennedy. On a tour of NASA, he saw a man holding a broom and asked him what he did there. The janitor firmly replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” He did not see himself as just a custodian; he was a member of the 1962 NASA Space Team. This story teaches us about perspective. You can sweep the floor, or be part of the mission to put a man on the moon. You can support a charity, or help eliminate hunger in Central America. You can be a designer, or help bring your client’s dreams, passions and purpose in life through the work you create.
- Figure out what you stand for and what you believe in, and use that as your point of difference. In a crowd of entrepreneurs, personal brands and companies, how will you stand apart? Start with a purpose — write down why you’re doing what you’re doing and articulate that on your materials, website and social channels. Find out where your talents and values meet, and use that to fuel your purpose.
- Champion a movement. Extraordinary individuals and companies devote themselves to an issue and see it through. You shouldn’t be swayed by quick fixes or cheap marketing tricks. Everything you do should reflect your vision, values and motto. Champion a cause, ignite a movement.
- Approach your work as a lifelong experiment. You‘ll hear advice such as, “Do one thing and do it well.” In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Purpose is what guides you. What you do and how you do it are simply expressions of that larger purpose. If you’re a person with varying interests, you should never limit yourself to just one focus. It will drive you mad and you will likely become disenchanted.
- Realize your identity is your most powerful asset. Your identity is the most powerful asset you have. It’s how the world identifies with you and how you identify with the world. Make no mistake, by embracing who you are and cultivating your strengths and gifts, you can articulate yourself in the world more profoundly and authentically.
When my co-founder Ashleigh Hansberger and I started Motto almost 10 years ago, we were a few years into our design career when we realized we’d lost the passion for our work. From the outside in, we looked like we had reached a level of success. But inside the walls, we were struggling to define the reason our company existed. That realization propelled us on a quest for meaning, to identify and articulate our own purpose as individuals and as a company. We would stop at nothing until we could know our purpose and bring it to life in our business. The struggle to define your purpose is nothing new: we all struggle with it. We failed, lost our way, became disenchanted, quit and started again — all before reaching a point where our purpose became clear.
A true sense of purpose is deeply emotional. It serves as a compass that guides you to act in ways that are consistent with your values and beliefs. When you harness your purpose, you give your life’s work a whole new meaning and you can give more to those you are trying to inspire and serve.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
Image credit: CC by Luis Perez