Why you need to find a ‘higher purpose’ in your work

To avoid ‘career sleepwalking’, you should find work that gives you meaning and makes you feel that the job you are doing makes a difference, says life coach, Smita Das Jain

Madhuri (name changed to protect privacy) is a senior vice president in one of Asia’s leading banks. For more than 15 years, she focused primarily on working her way up the ladder in the credit risk department of her organisation. Along the way, she gathered recognitions, promotions and enhanced compensation, and continued to work harder to meet the demands of her superiors, peers and team members.

One morning, she woke up with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. She knew her calendar was choc-a-bloc with meetings and appointments, and she was not looking forward to her day. She had brushed off those negative thoughts earlier, but now she realised she couldn’t stay one day longer in a place where she had spent almost half her life, in what was the only job she had ever held. She resigned from her position on the very same day.

Madhuri had encountered a midlife crisis in her career. Unfortunately, she is not an exception to this in the high-pressure corporate world.

Statistics tell the tale of career sleepwalking

A 2018 LinkedIn study of more than 2,000 professionals in the United States revealed that a sizeable proportion of the working population felt they were ‘career sleepwalking’. Of all professionals aged between 35-44 in the survey, 47% were not sure of the career path they wanted even after more than a decade in the workforce. More pertinently, 22% of the respondents (of all ages) said that they ‘fell’ into their job rather than actively choosing it, and 23% reported feeling stuck ‘on a treadmill going nowhere’. Perhaps as a result, 84% of respondents under 24 said they were planning to change their careers even before fully settling into their place of work!

Leaders, hiring managers and organisations failed to note these cold, hard numbers. Then the Covid-19 pandemic happened, and people started re-evaluating their priorities, no longer wanting to compromise with their likes. Indeed, the ‘Great Resignation’ was something waiting to happen; the pandemic just accelerated the timelines.

‘Higher purpose’ at work: a solution to the mid-life career crisis

Why do so many smart professionals want to change their careers in midlife? The answer lies in the changed priorities of individuals.

We are all different persons at the ages of 25, 35, 45 and so on. What held good a decade ago would have lost its allure in the present, and how we see our future may be vastly different from what we are doing for a living currently.

At the outset of your career, money is often the most important thing. It will continue to be important in your life, no doubt or qualms about it. But after four to five years of working, the compensation will become a hygiene factor and lose its allure. One day, you will want to not ‘fall’ into your workday but enjoy what you do for a living. You will need something more than money to wake up from your bed with a smile on your face and look forward to your day at work.

This something more is your ‘higher purpose’ at work. More than being about economic exchanges like compensation, a higher purpose is something that gives you meaning and makes you feel that the job you are doing for your organisation makes a difference in the world. A higher purpose is your meaningful contribution to the greater good.

If your job isn’t aligned with your passions and purpose, your day will drag on, and feelings of disenchantment and disillusionment will set in. That is the real reason we are witnessing the Great Resignation today. On the other hand, studies have shown that people with a higher purpose at work are healthier, more resilient, more productive, and more likely to stay in their jobs for longer.

Rather than just another corporate initiative, ‘higher purpose’ comes from within you. It is personal.

How to find your higher purpose

To avoid becoming a part of the Great Resignation 2.0 in future, and more importantly, avoid finding yourself in the shoes of Madhuri and other individuals sleepwalking through their careers, as per the aforementioned LinkedIn study, ask yourself these questions before taking up a job:

1. Would I like doing the job as much if I would not be getting paid to do it?
2. Would I enjoy the process that the job would entail, besides the outcome that I envisage from it?
3. Do I see myself getting out of bed with a smile for my workday three years down the line?

If your answer to all these questions is ‘yes’, then congratulations! You are working in a place meant for you. If your answer is ‘no’, then you must first evaluate what jobs and careers would make you answer ‘yes’ to the three questions above and prepare a roadmap to land that job.

The right time to find your higher purpose is now— when you are enthusiastic, your energy levels are high, and there’s no sense of urgency or crisis. And not when things come to pass. For if you don’t act, they will.

The last word: get your higher purpose right

What drives you in your day-to-day life? Take the time to reflect on what inspires and motivates you. Try to see the big picture of your job – how does your profile play a role in the value chain for something more significant for the community or society. Look outside your immediate sphere of influence and think about what impact would you like to have on the world.

You know yourself best. The answers you look for are all within you. You just have to pause, think and reflect to find it, and get off the ‘continuous treadmill to nowhere.’ It is not easy, but it isn’t difficult either.

Smita Das Jain is a certified Personal Empowerment Life Coach, Executive Coach and NLP Practitioner. Smita’s ‘Empower Yourself’ programmes help busy professionals unhappy in their jobs transform their passions into professions so that they work because they want to, not because they have to.

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