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What is your career purpose?

Yesterday, at the beginning of a call with my leaders, our VP surprised me with a remarkable question, “what is your career purpose?”

Reflexively, I answered something to the effect of, “to find ways to use existing investments to make work easier, improve customer experiences, and help achieve organizational goals.” I admitted that this was simply an expansion of my previous mission statement to “find ways to use existing technology investments to make work easier so workers can better serve customers.”

Unfortunately, my offer was dismissed.

“That’s not a purpose, that’s an objective,” I was told warmly. My VP went on to share about his last three days of discovery of his career purpose, and that led me to start thinking seriously about my career purpose, well beyond the bounds that I have thought of it previously.

This introspective inquiry has led me down a rabbit hole of self-discovery and research. I have literally been up since the middle of the night thinking about his question. Obsessive? Perhaps. Bothered? Not at all. Inspired? Markedly.

To determine my career purpose, beyond what I thought it to be, I knew I would have to look far and wide, and deep into my soul. So, I turned to the first place that anyone else in this predicament would go: YouTube.

It was there that I found a wonderful story from Oprah Winfrey about her discovery of her own purpose through the journey of her career:

“Your real job in life is to figure out what it is you are called to do and you use a job until you can figure out what the calling is because a job is necessary to survive…” 

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah’s early career development seemed so familiar to me. Sure, I haven’t worked as a news anchor and I, a straight white male, have no idea how difficult it must be as a black woman in broadcast journalism. However, I have experienced and know what it is like to try a job that you later realize isn’t the perfect fit. It’s these experiences that have helped me to learn, grow, and pursue other things more suited for my strengths and desires.

They say you know you’ve found your purpose when you find the thing that, even as Oprah says, “you would do for nothing.” But will we all find that thing?

It turns out that what we are supposed to do, and our purpose can be two entirely different things. What you’re supposed to do, that, according to Merriam-Webster, is simply something you lay down tentatively as a hypothesis. Your purpose though, that is defined as “an end to be obtained.”

Until you find your purpose, you’re left with nothing but what you suppose you should do. The only dilemma then is you have no end to march towards. So, how are we supposed to find our purpose?

Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, shares his perspective from the TEDx stage:

It turns out, according to Sinek, inspiring action all starts with sharing your vision and beliefs. So is finding your purpose just as simple as articulating your beliefs?

What is your career purpose? How did you discover it?

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