Society at large presses onto us the message that hard work is virtuous and makes us happy. And it’s true! But this sentiment really ought to come with a caveat: it’s rewarding to work hard for a cause you believe in. While there are some easy-going folks out there who can happily go their entire career without feeling the need to believe in the work they’re doing, the rest of us need a sense of purpose. Finding your ‘why’ is the path to a fruitful and fulfilling career—and we’re going to tell you how to do just that.
The steps detailed below can help you on your journey to finding your why, and to finding purpose in your career. Once you’ve successfully managed to find this elusive and alluring ‘why’, the skies will clear; farewell indecision, goodbye stagnation, sayonara frustration. Your ‘why’ can change, of course, and your sense of purpose today might be driven by something very different in ten years’ time. However, actively seeking out your ‘why’ can keep you with a clear sense of direction, and put control of your career (and life!) in your own hands.
So: here are the questions to start asking yourself to begin the search to find your ‘why’.
What do I love?
A pretty solid starting place is to sit awhile and ponder what you love doing the most. Be honest with yourself, and don’t at this stage concern yourself with thinking about making money or being employable. That comes later. For now, simply make a list of things that bring you happiness. This might be something as basic as ‘exercise’ or ‘cooking’. It could also be something more complex, like writing, or designing, or doing equations.
You don’t need to go much deeper than that for now. It’s best to be broad at the stage, as it leaves you more wiggle room later to find your ‘why’. If you’re not sure what you love, try to be mindful of your moods over the course of a week, and note down moments when you felt particularly joyful and fulfilled. Check for patterns emerging: when were your spirits lifted most?
What am I good at?
Many people, if you ask them what they’re good at, will shrug their shoulders and say something modest and self-effacing like ‘I don’t really know’. But there’s no need to be so self-effacing. Being humble is good, but everybody should have one thing they are unapologetically good at. If you’re reading this and thinking currently that you don’t have any talents, dig a little deeper, and don’t go solely by the education system’s academic definition of talent.
Perhaps you’re a whiz in the kitchen. Perhaps you’re the life and soul of the party, and people gravitate to you. Perhaps you’re a kind and caring friend, and you can always manage to help guide your friends through a crisis. Perhaps you dress sharp, and people are always commenting on your outfits. Any of these is a great place to start—you could be a chef, an account manager or salesperson, you could work in HR, or you could go into fashion and design. Every single person is brimming with potential when you dive even a little bit beneath the surface.
What does the world need?
When we see the work we’re doing improving the world around us, our sense of contentment and purpose goes through the roof. Figuring out what the world needs shouldn’t be too taxing; it could certainly use a little TLC these days. Spend a little time writing down issues with the world, and opportunities to help. This needn’t be on a global scale; it could be something as simple as providing a service to people which you feel is lacking in your area—like an artisanal sandwich shop!
Then again, you may wish to go big with your dream. Perhaps politics has a certain appeal, or you feel that the adverts you’ve been seeing on the commute are lacklustre and poorly designed. There’s no end of improvements to be made!
How can I make money?
Well, it had to factor in at some point! Making money is a necessity, unfortunately, and this is where high-flying dreams are often tempered. But this last question is an important one, and ties everything together. It’s all well and good reading the first three questions and deciding that you absolutely adore writing songs about peace and love, but… the market to be the next John Lennon is pretty darn competitive, and paying the rent through this alone would be, frankly, quite impossible. However, that’s not to say you couldn’t make a very comfortable living working in sound design, for example. It’s all about finding the angle that allows you to earn a wage.
Fear can slow you down when finding your why
When you consider the above four questions, you’ll have four solid building blocks on which you can find your career.
It can be quite scary, finding your ‘why’. You may stumble upon an answer you didn’t expect, and it may mean a change from your current career. Sometimes, our ‘why’ is so obvious that we don’t even consider it. If people are continually complimenting you for something, from your quick-wit to your creative streak, hold onto those compliments and use them to identify what it is that you can offer the world.
The working world is enormous and accommodating for all kinds of dreams and ambitions, even if at the outset it may feel like the opposite. Somewhere out there, somebody is doing your dream job right now and absolutely loving it—and you could be in that same position. Finding your ‘why’ and embarking on a career filled with purpose all begins with being bold enough to desire something better for yourself. So be brave, and start searching for your ‘why’!