We’ve all seen the Venn diagram that shows us that our purpose is somewhere in the sweet spot of that which we love, that at which we do well, that which the world needs, and that for which we can receive decent payment. It sure is great—in theory.
Not all of us get to find the space resting handsomely amidst all four of those ideal circumstances. Heck, some of us may be lucky to find ourselves barely obtaining the rewards from one partially realized category.
Yes, this is ideal. Yes, let’s agree to never stop striving for ideal. But what if we don’t have that now? Then what?
You can still realize your purpose through your job even if you aren’t realizing your purpose in your job.
I know, work with, and coach several individuals who are working in a particular field right now because it pays them decently—or at least more decently than leaving to pursue a more passion-driven alternative. Similarly, I know people who are doing something they love but barely scraping by—and by “barely”, I mean using credit cards to supplement their already-frugal lifestyle because “barely” doesn’t cut it.
Which is better?
I’d say neither are feeling fulfilled. Those in the former group feel like sell-outs forced into working dispassionately to earn decent livings. And those in the latter feel proud of “sticking it to the corporate man” at the expense of sticking it to themselves and their future security.
You’ll never hear me give blanket advice to someone that says “go get a job at a bank, earn your $40k and give up on your dreams because you’ll be happier if you can afford rent and groceries.” Both my husband and I had jobs that were life-squelching, soul-sucking, miserable, ulcer-forming experiences, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. But I also don’t wish for one to be saddled with personal credit lines that mimic that of the national debt, where the only way out is to file bankruptcy or fake your own death.
Since we can’t make others pay us more for our passion; sometimes the smart choice is to “go get a job at a bank, earn your $40k and give up on your dreams pursue your dreams in a different capacity because you’ll be happier if you can afford rent and groceries.” But can we do that without completely signing over our soul to the devil of corporate greed and cubicles?
I think we can.
Let me share a story about a client of mine. She likes her job. She doesn’t love it in that I’m-nursing-orphaned-children-back-to-health-and-building-wells-in-the-desert sort of way. It’s a good job with a good company doing good work for their clients. But it’s not something she has been dreaming about since she was a little girl day-dreaming of her fairytale future.
She does, however, have a dream to take her father’s ashes to Australia. A place her father had always dreamed of going. A place they had talked about visiting together. Unfortunately for all, life got in the way of his dream. Her father died unexpectedly and now my client feels this pull to complete the voyage in homage to her beloved father.
But again, sometimes life gets in the way. Australia is expensive and paid time off can be hard to come by. That being said, my client, is in a sales role and earns commission on new clients she brings on. And possibly, if she could increase her client base by about 10 percent, she would have the extra income to make her trip to Australia.
When we broke down the numbers, if she could do the same work she does on her best days (note: I did not say make the sales, but do the work), on all days, that increase in activity (basing it on her current results) would be enough to increase her personal revenue.
So for her, even though prospecting is difficult, the burden is greatly lessened by her connecting her personal purpose (taking her dad on the trip he never got to take) with her professional role.
You, too, can do the same.
Sure, not everyone is in sales or in a position to directly control their income. But can we find similar reasons to align doing the hard because it provides us with the good?
My grandfather worked three jobs so that he could ensure that all seven of his children went to college. If his purpose wasn’t connected to those jobs he would have probably given up. However, because he could connect the dots between his jobs and his children’s education—even though the jobs themselves were not his purpose—he was able to see all his children graduate with four-year degrees.
In the book Switch, a story is told about a hospital cafeteria worker who saw his purpose in keeping people healthy and alive through keeping an incredibly sanitary cafeteria. Again, nothing very purposeful in cafeteria work alone—in fact, many would shun the work as too degrading or beneath them—but this man saw it as a vehicle to a larger destination. He literally saved lives (and I mean literally, hospital deaths actually declined).
Can you align your purpose of raising hard-working children by showing them your work ethic? Or your purpose of bringing theater to inner-city kids in a volunteer, weekend position because you have a 9-5 job that pays you enough to take care of your own family. Can you see yourself not as a cog in the wheel but as a vital ingredient in the bigger recipe?
While I hope you find a place that allows you to do that which you do well, you love, and the world needs all while making good money, I suspect most of us might have to search in a couple different places to find them all.
And the sooner we become okay with our job not necessarily being our purpose but a vehicle which allows us to achieve our purpose, the sooner we will be more satisfied with both.
Yes, go forth and find your purpose. But don’t necessarily quit your day job.