How to Lead a Purposeful Career

If you’ve been keeping up with me recently, you’d know I’m on a “Happiness Journey”, studying what it means to find happiness. I am on a mission to better understand where the overlap is between professional success and true happiness, if any, as well as what we can do to live through happiness in spite of the traditional emblems of success.

In short, being happy requires finding our purpose. Surprisingly, leading a purposeful life is not found by doing something radical or grandiose, but rather it comes from fulfillment in our day-to-day journey, such as our work/life balance. Research shows that we can reframe our daily perception of our actions to create a purposeful life. 

Harvard’s Amy Wrzesniewski found that when people were asked about their work, they described it in one of three ways: 

  • Job: These people were solely doing the work for the paycheck and living for the time spent on other things, i.e. passion projects, hobbies, social life, meeting needs, etc.
  • Career: These people were eager for promotions, prestige, and financial rewards. They saw their work as a rung on the ladder and were focused on how to move up, deriving their sense of happiness from professional recognition and the satisfaction of knowing they’re capable and competitive in their field.
  • Calling: These people derived great joy and energy from their work. They saw the hours spent at work as meaningful, had more positive interactions with colleagues, and ultimately, felt more successful at any given point in their professional journey because they were content with the mission of their work and felt it was, on its own, worthwhile.

Interestingly, it did not matter if the person asked was a teacher, doctor, investment banker, janitor, etc. People in every role described their work in each of the three categories. Think about your work; Would you classify it as a job, a career, or a calling? 

It is okay to see your work as a job or career for a short time or early in your career, but the key is to spend most of your time perceiving your work as a calling if you want to lead a happy and purposeful life. Creating a purpose in our work allows us to radiate energy and joy regardless of our chosen profession. 

I’ll share a few examples. Think about your favorite teacher and how you enjoyed attending their class. They inspired you and the other kids in the classroom to love the subject they were teaching. Or consider the retail sales person who went above and beyond to find your size, genuinely enjoyed helping you feel confident and well-dressed, and always had a smile. 

Regardless of the type of work or the level of the employee, how we think about, talk about and interact at work is up to us. Who doesn’t want to do business with people who see their work as a calling?

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Kim Martin