Part of the series “Accessing the Most Powerful Version of You”
When I was deeply engaged in the process of building my corporate career in marketing and product development, the first years were exciting because I felt I was learning a great deal and moving towards something bigger. But as I hit my early 30’s, that excitement waned and was replaced by the confusion and disillusionment.
“Is this all I’m going to be doing with my professional life? Is this all there is?” I asked myself frequently. The work outcomes I focused on just didn’t hold the meaning or “juice” I was longing for, and left me feeling empty, especially after dedicating so many hours, days and weeks on endeavors that I felt lacked contributive value in the world. And deep down, I felt there was some greater purpose to my life that I just couldn’t put my finger on, nor could I figure out what work I could pivot to without losing everything I’d strived so hard for.
Now, after 15 years of serving as as career and leadership coach, I’ve observed that this question – “What is my purpose here in this life, and what work can I do that will help me fulfill this purpose?” is one of (if not THE) most important yet baffling questions potential career changers struggle to answer. Yet if they don’t effectively address this question, the result is that many stay stuck in quiet desperation—locked in unhappy, stressful and unrewarding careers because they can’t figure out a next move that might get them closer to the answer.
How can we address this all-important question of finding purpose and meaning in our work and careers, of fulfilling the dream we once had of who we could be?
Professionals typically stay stuck in career pain because they feel they have no avenue for doing work that feels meaningful without chucking everything they’ve given so much of themselves to create and achieve. They stay stuck too because there are legitimate financial, health or other serious needs that keep them locked into believing that the only way to fulfill those obligations is to stay in jobs and work cultures they intensely dislike.
This is an experience I refer to as one of the 7 damaging power gaps that 98% of professionals are facing today that keep them from reaching their highest and most rewarding potential. This particular experience is Gap #6: Losing Sight of Your Thrilling Dream, an experience that more than 75% of the respondents to my recent Power Gap Survey indicated they are facing now, in which the dream they once had of who they could be in the world and what they could offer has vanished and they don’t know how to get it back.
To overcome this gap, we need to find a way to stop letting our obligations or fears block our ability to see and explore potential possibilities for our lives. And we need to understand that we don’t have to give up forever on our dreams of doing rewarding, exciting work so we can meet our obligations. Despite what so many entrepreneurial, business and financial “gurus” tell us, recognizing and honoring your purpose in the world is not a pie-in-the-sky endeavor. Earning great money and doing purpose-driven work are not mutually exclusive.
Are some people more susceptible to this power gap than others?
The answer is “yes.” I’ve seen in coaching professionals around the world that those who’ve experienced the following situations tend to be more likely to bail on the dreams they had when they were young and stay stuck in unhappy careers wondering what their purpose is:
- Their authority figures strongly pressured them to take a path that wasn’t right for them
- They grew up feeling and seeing that money was very scarce and it was devastating not having it. Watching their family’s hardships and struggle with money was frightening to them
- Lack of a sense of worthiness–their childhood or other experiences taught them they weren’t worthy or valuable enough to have a thrilling career and life
- Their role models bailed on their big dreams, and they didn’t believe that purpose, meaning and success could realistically co-exist in a career
- There were told that they were stupid and they’d lose everything if they didn’t take the “safe” route
In the end, they didn’t learn that the only constant in life is change, and jobs and careers change constantly too. Nothing remains stable forever—external things shift and morph. So investing in yourself and pursuing what you care about most and what brings meaning to your life can be the one stabilizing force that gives you great positive power and strength over the arch of your life.
It’s in the act of nurturing your own unique, special skills and talents and finding exciting ways to apply those talents in service of others that you will finally experience the meaning and purpose you crave.
How can you identify your purpose and explore work that fits this purpose? Ask yourself these 10 questions as a start:
- What do you read, watch, listen to, follow that captivates you like nothing else?
- What angers and upsets you in the world that compels you to DO something to address it?
- Who are the people who inspire and uplift you and make you feel more alive? What are they focused on?
- If you could take one course or program for free on anything at all, what would it be?
- What have you always found easy and exciting to do but thought “I could never make a living at this?”
- What deep struggles and challenges have you overcome that you’d like to help others deal with more effectively in their lives?
- What skills or talents do you love to use that makes others say, “WOW! You’re amazing at that!”
- What area do you secretly fantasize about being involved in but feel ridiculous to say out loud?
- If you knew you couldn’t fail and it would all work out beautifully (financially and otherwise), what would you try to do, and why?
- Finally, what (or who) do you allow to hold you back today from pursuing what excites you most?
Answer these questions honestly, and then take just one step this week that honors what is calling to you. That step can be anything that gets you out of your stuckness and into action.
For instance, you can:
- Have one conversation with someone who is doing something you deeply admire
- Stand up and push back on the naysayers and skeptics in your life who say “do the safe thing and forget this ‘passion’ nonsense!”
- Research an affordable way to get more training in the direction that calls to your heart
- Connect with professionals, influencers and experts on social media and people in your local community who are doing work that you think would be thrilling to explore
- Shadow and interview 3 professionals doing work you think you’d love
- Ask 5 friends and colleagues what they think your most amazing talent is, and ask them for their thoughts about how you could use your talents differently, in ways that matter to you.
The key is to get moving out of your inertia, and allow in the belief that your talents and skills are of great value to the world in ways that will be meaningful to pursue. It’s your job to discover how.