Are you defining the purpose of your work too narrowly?
Last night at a dinner party I sat next to a guy I had never met before, and we got to talking about what he did for work (helping people with disabilities find jobs).
That in itself was interesting, but what was really interesting was his take on what he was actually there for, and how that perspective affected his experience of his work.
“I’m there to bring happiness and joy to people.”
That wasn’t his job description. It wasn’t even the aimed-for end result of the work he did. It was what I started thinking of as his core underlying purpose, something that had deeper roots than the fleeting, changeable definition of what he does for a living.
Work as a vehicle for purpose
He didn’t see that purpose as being served only when the end goal of his work was achieved. He saw it as unfolding in every aspect of his job. It defined how he saw his role, not just with the clients he worked with, but also his co-workers and the employers he talked to.
Seen in that light, his sense of meaning didn’t have to come from the actual job and its goals. The job was really just a vehicle for his core underlying purpose to be expressed.
That core underlying purpose was less about the actual details of the job (the job description, the goals, etc.) and more about how he did it. Every step of the way, every minute of the day, brings with it the potential for him to add to people’s happiness and joy in some way, even if it’s just giving someone a warm smile.
What’s my core underlying purpose?
If I were to take a first crack at my own core underlying purpose, I would say it is about facilitating clarity and opening doors of possibility. I find myself doing that in all kinds of ways in all kinds of scenarios. I do it in my Passion Catalyst work – coaching, writing and speaking – but I also do it naturally and informally, in random conversations at parties, for example.
So if I look at things through that lens, everything I do can be seen in the context of facilitating clarity and/or opening doors of possibility. It gives me a frame of reference in every scenario to ask, “How can I facilitate clarity here? How can open a door to possibility here?”
I can ask those questions in my work. I can ask those questions in my relationships. I can ask those questions in most any situation I find myself in.
Take your core underlying purpose for a test drive
What is your core underlying purpose? Do a first-blush version. See what comes out. Don’t worry about “getting it right.” Think of it as creating a lump of clay you can sculpt over time.
When you have a test version of your core underlying purpose, you can do two things:
- Explore how it is currently being expressed in your work, and your life.
- Look for opportunities to express it.
- Evaluate and refine it.
One of the big ways people block themselves from deep insights about something like this is a perceived need to have it all wrapped up and tidy with a bow on top right out of the gate. But deep insights like this often tend to come more from an unfolding than a brilliant flash of realization.
Having a test version of your core underlying purpose allows you to explore it, act on it, see how it feels, so how it fits, and refine it based on what you discover.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be exploring the idea of purpose more deeply, including how to identify what it is for you.
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Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM