There’s a popular yet misleading quote about meaningful work that says, “find your purpose, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The phrase implies if you love your work, it won’t feel like work.
Sounds appealing and like something to strive for, but if you have actually found your purpose, you may have discovered that the reality tends to be “find your purpose, and you will pretty much work all the time.” Or better yet, “find your purpose, and you will constantly live in a state of anxiety because you feel that you should be doing more of the work you care about.”
Knowing your purpose can be a lot of pressure. I used to lie down in bed after a long day of purpose-driven work exhausted, anxious, stressed, and frustrated, thinking about everything I needed to do. Then, when I was actually getting work done, I couldn’t shake the feeling that nothing was ever enough, and when I was not working, I felt I needed to be.
The stress caused by how attached I was to my purpose eventually started impacting my mental and physical health, along with my relationships. And part of me wished I could just forget that I cared so much. What if I could just wake up and enjoy a life without meaning? How simple would that be? To just live without thinking there was something I had to do all the time, without the pressure of my purpose, the thing I was supposed to love but was starting to dislike.
Over time, though, through a lot of trial and error, I learned how to let my purpose serve me, instead of feeling like I needed to serve my purpose. Because why should caring about something mean you stop caring about yourself?
Along the way of managing my purpose in a healthier way, I have figured out three important aspects that have been critical to actually enjoying my purpose and ultimately my life:
1. Your purpose is a concept that ignites emotions but does not make you immune to other emotions. The whole point of finding purposeful work is to feel connected, engaged, motivated, and fulfilled by how you are spending your time. But there will be days where life decides to throw a curveball (maybe a global pandemic, layoffs, etc.). And despite feeling like your purpose should always trump other emotions, it does not. That does not mean that you have not found your purpose, it just means that there is more to life than it.
2. Your purpose is not a milestone to achieve, it is a lifestyle. It is easy to confuse your desire to work on things related to your purpose with feeling like you must work on things related to your purpose. As if there is going to be a point in your work when you stop and say, “Wow, that’s it. My purpose is complete.” By definition, your purpose cannot ever be finished—that is the beauty of it. So, what is the rush? Just relax and enjoy it.
3. You created your purpose, so that means you are greater than it. Your purpose is just something that you decide to believe in. You discover, label, and choose to attach to it. But that also means you can take that label away at any time. You create your purpose and thus are not defined by it; more so, you control it.
Your purpose is just the thing or things that you feel connected to, the areas of work and life that if you dedicate your time should bring you greater fulfillment, motivation, and most of the time, happiness.
It is important to feel that your work is meaningful and that you have a purpose. We all deserve that, but that does not mean that it is more important than YOU. When I say YOU, I am talking about your entire being: physical, mental, spiritual, social, familial, romantic, etc.
Life and work are not about accomplishing any specific thing, they are just about discovering the things that you care about and then finding opportunities to spend time on them. You do not have a commitment to your purpose, you have a commitment to yourself.
Dr. Benjamin Ritter, is a leadership, career, and empowerment coach, learning and development consultant, values geek, international speaker, podcaster, author, mentor, and passionate about guiding others in finding, creating, and sustaining a career they love.