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Hi. I'm Laura.

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Is Your Purpose Frivolous?

Is Your Purpose Frivolous?

You want to do meaningful work, but you’ve got some questions:

  1. On what merit do you decide if a career or line of work is purposeful?
  2. Should you do something that is meaningful for you, or that will be meaningful for the world?
  3. Can you still do something that isn’t on the scale of solving world hunger and still claim to be doing purposeful work?
  4. Is what you really want to do actually frivolous?

Is Your Purpose Frivolous?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

In the comments, let me know if this changes how you think about doing meaningful or purpose-driven work in any way.

  1. Sondra@sondraabbottdesign.com

    June 18th, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    I have to be honest with you…yours is one of the few newsletters that 1) have survived my many cullings and 2) I open and read! This one does not disappoint. Very insightful. Thank you for writing it.

  2. laura@yourcareerhomecoming.com

    June 18th, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Thank you so much, Sondra!

  3. msnicolewarrington@gmail.com

    June 18th, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Thank you Laura! This is so what I needed this week. I’m moving away from elementary teaching towards teaching community art and selling my original art. It feels kind of selfish to leave the school teaching though I realize, ultimately I can’t bring and maximize my best skills to teaching when I am a substitute. Artwork and even teaching art (though it brings joy to people) can feel frivolous because it is certainly a ‘first world problem’ to toil with creation. I read lots about finding your customers ‘problem’ or ‘frustration’ or ‘need’. Art is so valuable but isn’t a need the way food and shelter are. So I wrestle in my head. One thing that is helpful to me is to collect feedback from my students and I keep it in an Evernote file called “Raves”. I read this when I feel like I’m not working with a purpose.

  4. laura@yourcareerhomecoming.com

    June 18th, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Great idea, Nicole. I keep a folder called “Good Stuff” that I revisit sometimes, too.

  5. sblesl@aol.com

    June 18th, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    Nicole – I know exactly what you mean about leaving the classroom. I started my business and left the world of education, too… and I know so many others who feel trapped not only by the security (i.e. steady salary and guaranteed retirement benefits) but also by the sense of loyalty to their students and a feeling that somehow leaving a teaching career is betraying everything they believe about what it is to do meaningful work in the world. I do believe this is a case of what Laura explained as “Mother Theresa Syndrome”… somehow we feel that we must sacrifice everything that fulfills us and brings us joy “for the sake of our students.” That attitude is not doing us OR the students any good! One of my favorite quotes related to this concept: “Don’t worry about what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive and do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”~Howard Thurman

  6. laura@yourcareerhomecoming.com

    June 18th, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    Thanks for this, Sandi. I know many talented teachers who get burned out and need a break, if not a new career. Students deserves teachers who have strong desire to teach, and that can be hard to sustain over an entire career.

  7. newman.amr@gmail.com

    June 18th, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    Wow, thanks for sharing your brilliance, Laura. You’ve hit the nail right on the head. Perfect timing too, as I’ve been second guessing whether my business idea is a worthy-enough cause to pursue. Love your example of clothes for dogs! You’ve put an ease to that nagging feeling and the constant pressure to work on something “more purposeful” – yes, like ending world hunger, which to me feels like jumping the gun to chase the sun. I know there are people out there who are much more suited to such endeavors than I am right now, so I’ll take this as my cue to leave it up to them to tackle such tasks. What a relief!

  8. laura@yourcareerhomecoming.com

    June 18th, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    And Alex, we can all choose to support “more purposeful” endeavors in our personal lives without making it our life’s work. Like you say, it’s all about what you are uniquely suited to do. Thanks for commenting!

  9. drvickie@renegadehealing.com

    June 18th, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    I really like the distinction between passion-driven and purpose-driven. I have had to learn this the hard way. I took yoga teacher training because I loved yoga and wanted to expand my practice. I realized very quickly that I loved yoga but I didn’t want to teach it.

  10. laura@yourcareerhomecoming.com

    June 23rd, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    Vickie, most people learn it the hard way, moi included!

  11. leilafanner@gmail.com

    June 19th, 2015 at 5:25 am

    Another refreshingly honest and well-written perspective, Laura.Thank you. I needed this today.

  12. laura@yourcareerhomecoming.com

    June 23rd, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks, Leila. Always enjoy seeing you here.

  13. wnabakiibi@yahoo.com

    June 19th, 2015 at 10:29 am

    This is a great piece Laura. You nicely explain the difference between Passion and Purpose Driven Work. I have never heard it explained so perfectly.
    Thank you.

  14. laura@yourcareerhomecoming.com

    June 23rd, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    Thanks, Winifred. Only took me 4 years to figure out how to say it 😉

  15. Anonymous

    June 22nd, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    […] Is Your Purpose Frivolous? from Laura […]

  16. Cwoodhead74@gmail.com

    September 7th, 2015 at 1:12 am

    I too left teaching and I’ve just joined your #ychchallenge and I’m loving these snippets of inspiration. I’m unsure as to my next move. On the one hand, ‘the world is my oyster’. On the other hand the responsibility of my future, it’s a scary place to be. Exciting and terrifying!Thank you for all YOUR hard work on helping and guiding us

  17. laura@yourcareerhomecoming.com

    September 8th, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    Thanks, Clare!


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