How would you rate yourself on the meaning scale in your career right now? Do you feel like you are working on purpose, that you have a calling and are acting on it, and that you have meaning in your work each day?
If you're reading that in a cold sweat thinking to yourself, 'what on earth is she talking about?!' You're not alone. And please don't panic!
The vast majority of people are going through the motions when it comes to their career. It's like being on auto pilot, or on the treadmill, and it happens for a whole lot of reasons. We get busy, we get stuck in a rut, we find ourselves a decade into a career and worry that it's too late to change, and we sometimes believe that meaning and purpose are for 'those' people, you know, the lucky ones, but not for us.
If you have those thoughts, you're in good company. But you'd also be selling yourself short. If you are struggling to find meaning in your work each day, or are longing to really discover what your purpose is, then browse through these thought starters, quietly contemplate the ones that you are drawn too, and see where they lead you.
1. Know it's ok to want more. If you're unfulfilled in your career, have a big dream, long to find your calling or just know that what you're doing isn't 'it', then know that it's ok to want to find something different, more meaningful and on purpose. You can go slowly. You don't need to declare to the world that you are on a seeking mission. You just have to admit it to yourself first.
2. Stop waiting to be struck. Most of us wait to get struck by purpose, like a lightening bolt from the sky or hearing the voice of God. But researchers tell us that it rarely happens like that. We discover our callings, bit by bit, not in one giant moment of clarity. So stop waiting for it to rain down from the heavens and start taking small concrete steps to uncover it piece by piece.
3. Start following your interests. So if not struck, then how do we discover it? We start by simply following our interest in a certain area, finding ways to spark it, and keep reigniting it over a long period of time. For me it started with an interest in women at work, so I followed that interest by attending women's conferences, joining the diversity council at work, reading and researching small pieces of information and it grew from there. What are you currently interested in? How can you keep sparking that interest and see where it takes you?
4. How 'you' do you feel? Do you ever feel like you're just not yourself anymore? Like when you were younger you had such a sense of yourself, but as you got older and more entrenched in your career you have lost your essence? This is a sign you are off track. Think back to the things that used to make you feel alive, authentic, real and you. What can you bring back today that will reconnect you with that core of who you truly are, even just a little bit?
5. Where do you lose time? Think about the moments of full engagement where you lose track of time, your surroundings, forget to eat or even move from your chair. These are moments of flow where you are engaging your strengths in a task that is fully absorbing you. These moments can be a good place to investigate a potential source of meaning for you.
6. Think about who inspires, interests and excites you. Write a list of 15 people who truly inspire you, whose work interests you and who you get excited thinking about a day in the life of. What do they do? Why is it interesting? What content are they working with? Who are they helping? Is there a spark in there you can follow that may lead to meaning for you?
7. Look for ways to find meaning right where you are. We often think that we have to give up our jobs and change our whole lives to be able to get 'on purpose'. But most of the time we can find meaning right where we are today. Think about the interests you want to pursue from question 3. What can you do today, in the role you are in, to bring in some of those interests?
8. If you got to the end of your life... Pretend you are at your 85th birthday party and reflecting back on your life. If there was one path that you had regrets about not pursuing, what would it be? Often the pang of regret that we can foresee, if we don't take certain action, can be a sign of a path worth pursuing.
9. What permission are you seeking? So much of our lives are wasted because we are seeking out someone's permission to follow the path we really dream about. It could be the permission of your mother, father, boss, mentor, partner or a grandparent. If you had all the permission in the world, what would you go and pursue in your career right now? What would be your very next step?
10. How can you most be of service? Where do you feel most useful in your life? What do people ask for your help with, or ask for your advice on, more than anything else? Where do you feel you have the most value to add, and the most service to give? There are often clues here as well. Look at how often you feel you are being of service, doing what, and with whom, as guideposts for where you can find more meaning in your everyday.
11. It doesn't have to be grand. Don't think that living on purpose has to be some grand calling. It doesn't. It just has to be meaningful for you. That could be raising your kids. Making sandwiches at the retirement village. Writing for the local free newspaper. Picking up rubbish in the park on weekends as part of community service. There is no scale for purpose. Just personal meaning.
12. If you got really quiet... When was the last time you sat in quiet contemplation? Or the last time you sat with your breath and meditated, even for two minutes? Deep down I believe we all know the answer to what we are here to do. But we must get quiet enough, often enough, to hear our own inner guidance. Start a practice of stillness each and every day, and listen for your own wisdom about what you are here for.
13. What's the next right action. As you start to play with these concepts you don't need to know how the story ends. If we wait for that we will never get started. You don't need to know how every step of the journey plays out, and exactly where the bends in the road will be. You just need to take the next right action. That could be having a conversation, picking up an old interest, doing a strengths survey, visiting the library for research, or sitting in that meditation for five minutes today and journaling what comes up for you. Just take one small action. And then another. Follow the interest that presents itself. And commit to taking small concrete steps each and every day to help your story fully unfold. There is meaning everywhere. You just have to be present, aware and open to the possibilities.
Rumi said that to discover the purpose of your life, you have to let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.
Let what you love pull you. Get closer. Get curious. And know that the only permission you need to go and explore your purpose to your heart's content, is your own.
Afternote: if you are longing to go deeper, really dig in to your life vision, purpose and career, then I'd love you to join my online program The Career Toolkit.