You want to do meaningful work, but you’ve got some questions:
- On what merit do you decide if a career or line of work is purposeful?
- Should you do something that is meaningful for you, or that will be meaningful for the world?
- Can you still do something that isn’t on the scale of solving world hunger and still claim to be doing purposeful work?
- Is what you really want to do actually frivolous?
Is Your Purpose Frivolous?
You Don’t Have a Purpose
The first thing I want to say about purpose, at least as I understand it, is that I don’t believe that we have one destined purpose that we’re born with that stays the same with us throughout our entire lives.
I think all of us have a sense of purpose that changes and develops over the course of our lives, and everybody has one of these, even if you’re not sure what it is yet or you’re not sure how to turn it into a career. If you’re thinking that there’s one star-crossed capital “P” Purpose out there for you, just let that one go.
Break Out of Mother Teresa Mode
What else is going on here is that you are stuck in what I call Mother Teresa Mode. That’s when you think that, for work to be purposeful or what I like to call purpose-driven, it has to be one of these high and mighty, charitable kinds of work. That kind of work is great and it can be purpose-driven for some people, but there are not certain kinds of work that own being purposeful. Any kind of job can be purposeful or purpose-driven to the right person.
Four Qualities of Purpose-Drive Work:
I’m going to share with you four qualities of purpose-driven work to help you get a better idea of what it actually looks like.
1. You Feel a Personal Connection to It
If starving children in Africa, while an amazing cause, if you don’t have some kind of personal connection, it’s just not going to ping you, and you’re not going to be able to relate to it and connect with it. You’ll feel a personal connection with whatever your purpose-driven work is going to be.
2. You Feel Compelled to Do Something About It
There are lots of things I feel a sense of personal connection with: animals, the environment, and healthy eating. But I don’t really feel, given my life experience and my skill set and just my level of interest, compelled to do anything (outside of my personal life) about those things. So that wouldn’t be good purpose-driven work for me.
3. Part of the Motivation Comes from Thinking About How It’s Going to Impact Others
You could tell me, “I feel compelled to paint.” But let’s figure out if that’s passion-driven or purpose-driven. If you feel compelled to paint because you love being in the studio and you love creating new things and that’s where it stops, you’re probably driven by a passion. If you feel compelled to paint because you really want to create unique experiences for other people to have via your art, that sounds more purpose-driven. What is motivating you? Is it about your self-expression and self-enjoyment? Which is fine, but is different from being motivated to help someone change something for someone or affect someone else’s life.
4. It’s Valuable to Someone Else
This is the best place for us to break out of Mother Teresa Mode: when we’re talking about what being valuable means.
Certainly a lot of the charitable, do-gooder things you’re thinking about are great to support, but there are a lot of ways to be valuable. Being entertaining is valuable. Being funny is valuable. You can bring value to someone by helping them have a wonderful wedding day. You can bring value to someone by giving them nice slippers to wear around their house. You can bring value to someone by creating a perfume that makes them feel more confident. We have to go back to what your connection to it is.
Nothing is Frivolous
Let’s take an example of something that we might think is just frivolous. What comes to mind for me is clothing for dogs because, come on, dogs don’t really need clothing. But a lot of people buy stuff for their dogs. I have a friend who buys lots of little sweaters and outfits and stuff for her dog, and she loves it. It strengthens her relationships with her dog. It makes her happy. It totally brightens the day of people who see the dog walking by in the little bumblebee costume or whatever she’s wearing.
I would not go into the line of work of creating outfits for dogs because I don’t have a personal connection to that. I don’t feel compelled to do anything about it. I’m not motivated by seeing dog owners and their friends being made happy by this. To me, it’s not a big thing of value. But for someone out there, making dog clothes could be purpose-driven work.
That’s a little bit of a silly example, but I hope I’ve shown you that in finding your purpose, first of all, there’s no such thing as a capital “P” Purpose, and that any kind of work can be purpose-driven if it hits those qualities for you. There are such things as frivolous items or frivolous things in the world, but there’s no such thing as a frivolous sense of purpose. If it matters to you, it probably matters to someone else. You want to bridge the gap between how it matters to you and how you’re going to help someone else.