Finding Your Life Purpose in Your Career

Have you ever wanted to reinvent your career? I have, and did so multiple times. I’ve gone from working in nonprofits to the private sector, and am now an entrepreneur. In this personal journey of reinvention, I’ve learned a lot about what’s at the root of every seeming “nonsensical” transition.

While I'd love to say it was the economy, the truth is, I was searching for something — actually two things in particular.

I wanted work that left me more fulfilled at the end of the day.
It seems that I'm not alone in that quest. In its State of the American Workplace report (2013), Gallup researchers noted that 70 percent of American workers are “not engaged,” which Gallup defines as “emotionally uncommitted to their work.”

What I have come to understand is what we really mean when we say we want to be fulfilled is that we want to experience our own power and full potential.

And while I loved my jobs, and each of the iterations of my business, none of them left me with that feeling. Instead, I always ended each week feeling like I’d given the best hours of my day to fulfilling someone else’s dream instead of my own with my career choices. And in my business, I constantly felt like “something is missing here.”

I wanted to know that my presence mattered. Simple but true.
When it comes to full engagement in the workplace, I’ve begun studying the work of relationship experts to better understand what causes “emotional commitment.”

With a reputation for his research on couples, psychologist John Gottman has demonstrated that couples who show appreciation for one another “enjoy happier and longer relationships.”

Tying this to research on work engagement, it’s easy to see that most people feel not only underappreciated, but also underutilized in the workplace. When others don’t experience your best qualities, and you feel like the best parts of you don't matter, or worse — that they are unwelcome, then your commitment to that relationship radically wanes.

While Gottman's research was specific to couples, why would the rules for longevity and happiness be different in any other relationship where we spend significant amounts of time, such as our jobs?

According to a 2012 research study by Net Impact, 76 percent of workers say that having their opinions valued is an essential part of their dream job. Is it any wonder that Millennials and Gen-Xers are reinventing their careers at three times the rate of the previous generation?

The appreciation of our best parts and expression of those parts through our opinions lets us know two things: that who we are matters, and that we showed up made a difference. While I didn't know it at the time, in my quest for those two feelings in my work, I was actually searching for my life purpose. Here are two unexpected truths I've learned in the process that have also proven true for every client I’ve had since I began studying life purpose. I trust that they’ll be true for you too.

Your life purpose isn’t a specific job or business.
I was mostly fulfilled during my career in the private sector and when I started working as a health coach, I was also fulfilled. Were they both my purpose? No.

They were expressions of my purpose. It was work I was doing that allowed me to tap into my purpose, but not all of it. Which explained why I felt like something was missing.

If you’ve been feeling like something is missing with your current career or business, take some time to get very specific about what part of you isn’t getting expressed. That part is pointing to your life purpose.

Forget about passion.
In my business I’ve moved from health coaching to styling, and styling to branding; each time chasing “passion.” What I’ve learned both from my clients and from my own journey is that passions come and go. The neurological and chemical highs that we experience with passion are unsustainable. Relationship research has proved this repeatedly. So why would it be any different with your work?

While passion may allow us to feel that spark of “aliveness,” purpose allows us to feel the deep gratification of fulfillment and emotional commitment. If you’ve been chasing the dopamine-norepinephrine high of passion, I invite you to stop.

Instead, make a list of all the moments in your life when you felt deeply fulfilled (not high), identifying what all of these moments had in common. I can almost guarantee each moment was about what you were giving (purpose), as opposed what you were doing (passion).

Identify what you’re driven to give, and you’ll have identified your purpose. As you continue looking for your purpose, know that it takes time. And it won’t be all at once. Asking yourself the question, “What am I here for?” is what Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, calls “The Quest.” In engaging in the quest you will, without fail, become who you were always meant to be.

Kristen Domingue is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.

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