Episode #9 - Purpose & Deciding What to Do in Your Career
Hey Rebels!! Happy Kwanzaa!
We're in the midst of Kwanzaa, which is a weeklong celebration honoring African beliefs and traditions. It starts the day after Christmas and ends on New Year's Day, and over the seven days, there are seven principles that celebrants focus on – Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work & Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). Each day, over the seven days, you light a candle, and with your family, you meditate on these values and principles and then look for ways to incorporate them into your life. It's such a fantastic time to close out the year and truly prepare your heart and mind for the year to come.
Today is the 5th day of Kwanzaa, and the principle of the day is Nia, which is about purpose in your work, which I thought would be a perfect topic to talk about on today's podcast.
One of the key things I help my clients with is discovering and deciding their next career move. As their coach, I help them understand what they want and develop the strategies necessary to step into whatever they decide is their next best move. It sounds simple, but it's not. If it were, there wouldn't be thousands of books out there on finding your purpose and discovering what you're meant to do in the world. Millions of people have quit their jobs this year because they want to do meaningful work that allows them to have a life they love.
Reflecting on the principle of Nia, I went to Google and looked up the definition of purpose and saw that it's both a noun and a verb. It's the reason for which something is done or created (noun) and the intention or objective of something (verb).
So when it comes to discovering your purpose in your work or making your next career move, there are two fundamental questions you have to answer: (1) what's your reason for doing the work or why this work, and (2) what's your intention, or what impact do you want to make through your work?
Now, I've spent the better part of almost 30 years looking at, supporting, studying, working with, observing people on their career pathway, and career is a big part of people's lives. In fact, most of us identify ourselves by our career title more often than who we are as individuals. You'll commonly hear people ask, "What do you do?" And they'll quickly answer I'm a lawyer, teacher, or VP of such and such company.
What you don't hear are things like, "I'm an innovator, relationship builder, motivator, big thinker, or learner." As a society, we've placed more value on what you do for a living instead of who you are as a person, which has caused us to look for purpose outside of ourselves, externally instead of internally. And by definition, purpose in relation to your work is an inside game, an intrinsic motivation.
The principle of Nia is not about finding purpose but finding purpose IN your work. Your purpose is not your job in and of itself… it's who you are and how you get to align that with the work you decide to do in the world. Going back to our definition, it's your "why" or reason for your work and your intention or impact, all grounded in an understanding of self.
This is a challenging mindset shift for women at midlife because our individual identities and career identities have become deeply intertwined at this stage in our lives. We don't know who we are without a title, profession, or industry behind us and; therefore, it's extraordinarily challenging to lower the veil to not only rediscover who you are but to place the same value on who you are as what we do.
So when we're dissatisfied, unfulfilled, burned out, or just plain miserable, we're more likely to stay and suffer through than even contemplate leaving because of the external validation that comes from holding a societally approved and respected position. The fear of not knowing what's on the other side of a career decision or career move that places greater significance on your own identity and finding value in what you love and are meant to do can be too much for women in the midlife pivot. But once you get clear on who you are outside of your career identity and clear on how you want to express yourself, your purpose in a job or career of your choice, you'll have confidence in yourself and any career decisions you want or need to make.
Let me give you a personal example.
When people look at my career path from lawyer, to consultant, to professor, to entrepreneur, it seems like I've made several pivots and shifts. And while I have changed industries, jobs, careers, and professions, none of it feels like a pivot or shift to me.
I became an employment lawyer because I wanted to help individuals have the best possible work experience they could have. I took a position as an HR Director because I wanted to help create policies and programs to support employee engagement and retention. I became an organizational consultant to help organizations create a culture that valued their most vital asset, their employees, and to coach leaders to be effective stewards of employee growth and advancement. I moved into the academy to study gender and racial identity development and how it impacted career choice and organizational effectiveness. Ultimately I became a career and executive coach to help my clients have career authenticity, authority, and alignment doing the meaningful work they're meant to do in the world.
I know my purpose is to motivate and inspire women to break through the limiting beliefs that keep them from becoming the CEO of their lives, unapologetically living life on their terms. And when I look back over my 30+ year career, I've been able to express my purpose in my work through training, teaching, coaching, and positioning people and organizations for success. Who I am and the work I do in the world is not something that's given to me; it's something I take with me wherever I go. Once I understood that, I could shake the fear and worry about the unknown or what others would think of my career decisions.
Knowing who you are and the impact you want to make is what matters. Titles don't. It's your ability to express who you are through what you do that does.
I left the law not because I wasn't good at it, but the way the profession is structured didn't allow me to fully express my purpose in the way I wanted. However, it took time for me to separate my identity from my career identity, mainly because everyone saw me as a lawyer and was perplexed by my decision to leave the law. Some people are still confused to this day even though I haven't practiced in 20 years!
When we look outside of ourselves for external validation or guidance, we end up far off the path we should be on. That's why so many people struggle to try to figure out what they want to do. When our careers are chosen for us by a parent or mentor, or we choose based on the appeal of money, title, or reputation, it's easy to end up feeling lost or stuck in something that doesn't feel quite right or aligned with who you are. And the pressure to conform to some societal ideal of a "good" career or reputable profession can be extremely hard to resist.
That's how people wake up 10 or 20 years later, finding themselves in jobs and careers they don't love but feel trapped in because of sunk cost fallacy. In other words, I've already put too much time, money, education, and energy into this, so I might as well just stay in it. Unfortunately, this affects so many high-achieving midlife professional women.
It's challenging to figure all of this out without a framework or process to help you answer these questions and clarify what you want to do. In order to answer "why this work," you'll want to get clear about who you are, your values, what matters to you, and how it fits in the larger ecosystem of your life; and to answer "what impact" you want to make, you'll have to get clear on the who, where, and how of your work. Managing your mind throughout this discovery process will be imperative, particularly when your brain starts sending panic signals that can inhibit you from making meaningful decisions about your career choice.
According to the American Institute of Stress, the brain biologically perceives job shifts or career change as a significantly stressful life event, so you can imagine the backflips your brain is going to engage in to keep you comfortable and put. So managing your thoughts will help you make your best career choices, whether you decide to advance where you are, transition to a job or new industry, or pivot into starting your own business.
Now, while there are nine steps I take my clients through, from discovery to stepping into the career and work they love, I want to focus on the first three, which center around purpose. In this discovery phase, we focus on:
Understanding who you are and how all your superpowers inform the expression of your purpose,
What matters to you and how it's aligned with your life vision, and finally,
Where you want to make an impact with your work.
So, first, you'll want to unveil what you love to do, what you're naturally good at, what your gifts and talents are, all of which form the essence of what you're meant to do. This isn't about finding a particular career or a job description but rather about understanding what you'll bring to a specific career or job.
For example, if you realize you're meant to promote peace through this discovery process, you can work as a mediator or activist; or if you want to bring beauty to the world, you may do that work through professional organizing or architecture.
You can use several reputable assessments to gain some insight, but they can be hard to understand and translate into practical steps. While I use some, I also have my clients do an exercise called Chunks of 10. Through this process, you'll look over your life, taking one decade at a time (hence chunks of 10), and write down specific situations, events, or experiences when you felt happy, proud, excited, and invigorated by what you were doing.
As you look over your list, you'll want to list the emerging themes and patterns that will give you a window into your purpose. Through this exercise, I was able to see the recurring theme and pattern of wanting to help people embrace their significance and do what they love.
Next, you'll want to discover what matters to you. Values are huge in career exploration, and once you integrate them with your natural gifts, talents, and skills, you'll have a clearer picture of your career story. We all have values; some are non-negotiable, meaning they need to be matched by others for you to be in community with them, and others are more intrinsic.
For example, one of the reasons I left the law was because of a values conflict. The law is adversarial in nature, and I'm more mediative and solution-oriented. Honesty and integrity are also some of my non-negotiable values that aren't always honored in the legal profession. Also, quality of life is essential to me, and while I had a great income, the 80-100 hour work weeks were not. While I value justice, creativity, autonomy, all of which were found in my work, I found that I needed those other values reciprocated in my work environment. The severity of compromise was too great for me to remain in the profession.
What about you? What's important to you? Where's the line for you? How closely must your values align with your work, the industry, peers, or colleagues? When you know what you need to work in your purpose, you're less likely to be seduced by something that looks like an opportunity in the conventional "get ahead" sense, but, upon closer look, you see that it's out of alignment.
Now that you know who you are, your innate gifts, talents, and genius, and what you value, what do you want to do with it? What impact do you want to make? What do you want to achieve through your meaningful, purposeful work? This is usually where panic, confusion, fear, and overwhelm kick in. It's usually centered around making the "right" or "wrong" decision. This comes from societal ideas about a good or bad career choice. If you find yourself consumed with "what will they think," whoever the mythical they are, then you're likely to end up right back where you started, wondering about the direction you should take in your career.
One of my clients struggled to determine what her next career move should be. After going through this process, she realized where the themes and patterns of her life and her values were leading her. Her sense of purpose was bringing people and resources together to create change and influence outcomes. This led her to make a career shift to a Chief of Staff role. That was how she wanted to express your purpose and make an impact in the world.
When trying to achieve any result or outcome, you have to figure out the actions you need to take, what you need to feel to take those actions, and what you have to believe to feel that way. I've talked about this before in previous podcasts. It's the cognitive thought, feelings, and actions loop that ultimately delivers the results you want.
In this example, my client's actions were to get clear on her vision, implement a networking strategy, cultivate an internal network, fine-tune her brand narrative, solidify her self-confidence, and manage her patience, all I which I coached her on. However, you can't carry out these actions if you feel overwhelmed, fearful, or doubtful. So she focused on feeling excited, determined, confident, and prepared. But remember, our thoughts and beliefs drive our feelings, so we worked on her mindset to embrace thoughts like I'm made for this, I'm a valuable asset, and I'm an effective change agent, as examples.
People often use a random set of affirmations to try and fuel a new belief system, but pretty words that hold no significance for you or that you struggle to believe will never work. There's nothing more powerful than creating your own belief statements that can truly inspire and move you to action to get what you want in your life and career.
And there you have it. To do the purposeful and meaningful work you want and are meant to do in the world, you have to first get clear on who you are. You can do that by looking at the themes and patterns of your life that allow you to hone in on your zone of genius. Next, take the time to learn what matters to you and your values' significance on how you need to express your purpose. Finally, understand where and how you want to make an impact. To get there, you're going to have to create the belief to spark the feeling and emotion you'll need to take the required actions to get you the result you want. Mastering this cognitive loop model will help you make the necessary decisions to get the career and life you want.
The 5th principle of Kwanzaa, Nia, is about purposeful work, work that has both meaning and significance to the individual and a larger impact and contribution to the world. It's suggested that this level and quality of purpose not only benefit the collective whole but give fullness and meaning to a person's life. As French psychiatrist Frantz Fanon noted, "each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, [and then] fulfill it or betray it."
This is the perfect time of year, and the ideal day, to reflect on what you truly want in your life and career as you prepare for the new year.
If you're in a career that feels prescribed, that no longer fits or fulfills you, or are feeling unsettled but believe you should be happy because you have all the things, then you're probably not working in purpose. It's time to stop believing it's impossible and start creating a new path to what you want. I can teach you how, in a safe container, so you can do it for yourself for the rest of your life. In the Carer Rebel Academy, we use a proven methodology that gets results, and I want you to get the results you want. I dropped the details on how to apply in the show notes.
That's all I have for you today, Rebels! Thanks for tuning in!
Happy Kwanzaa and Happy New Year! Here's to an amazingly rebellious year!