Yesterday I posted 5 Thoughts on Purpose. Today is the follow-up I promised on how we can go about creating purposeful work:
(1) Perform well on the task at hand. When we feel angst about finding meaning and purpose in or work, it is easy to get caught up in self-assessment, planning and daydreaming. Worse, it is easy to start disparaging where we are and the work at hand as if it is beneath our lofty aspirations. The fact is that for most of us, the seeds of our greatness lie in our present moments - and often in the darkness of those moments. If we will just embrace these moments and perform well on the task at hand it is amazing how others will take notice, and opportunities will open up. My best career opportunities have come from tackling so-called sh** work with gusto and determining to make a difference no matter how menial the chore.
(2) Point #1 doesn't mean to just give up on ever finding something greater, however. While you are busy performing well on the task at hand, keep your eyes open for opportunities where you can use your skills and interests to make a contribution. The key here is that purpose does not exist in isolation. This is why I am so leery of self-assessment worksheets that do not call for an examination of the context around us. Simply following our own interests and desires is never a recipe for happiness - we need to use our skills to contribute to and improve the world around us. The formula for finding purpose is:
My Purpose = My Skills + My Interest + The Needs of the World
Purpose requires all three. Skills + Interest with no connection to the needs of the world is simply a hobby or a recreational pursuit. Skills + Needs of the World without a personal interest is a good recipe for becoming a martyr. Interest + Needs of the World with no Skills is an empty do-gooder approach that may last for awhile but cannot bring about lasting, effective change where needed.
(3) Be willing to make a sacrifice to invest in yourself. As noted above, simply being interested in something is not enough. If a certain type of work interests you, be willing to take a good hard at your skills set compared to the required skills. Don't be afraid to judge yourself harshly on this. If what you are after is really, truly your purpose, you will do just fine with the hard work that it takes to develop the skills. I teach a university course in HR Management to business professionals who are returning to school to get their BA degree. I tell my students, "If you will just read HR Magazine from cover to cover faithfully every month, within 1 year you will know as much if not more than many of your HR peers." They think I am kidding. I am not. A person who invests in themselves by regularly reading industry and trade journals instead of skimming entertainment magazines or soft news is making an investment that will pay off significantly over time. You will also learn a lot about whether you are on purpose with your work or not...if your industry and trade journals bore you, you may need to re-think what you are pursuing.