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The Purpose of a Purpose

"Everyone has the same job description:  find a problem, solve a problem, and don't be a problem."

A wise woman mentor of mine once made note of this during a time of crisis in my life.  On instinct, I quit my job without having another job waiting.  I wasn't a dummy: I gave five weeks' notice, enough time to figure out my next move. I got no epiphany from God about how the $0 in my savings account was going to sustain me and my toddler during and after this period of spiritual trusting.

Immediately after I quit, I saw a posting for my dream job. At that point, I had been waiting for a job like this to come my way for fifteen years. I applied for my dream job as Chief Executive Officer of an organization serving survivors of violence, and I got an interview with the organization's Board of Directors

First joy set in, then pride, then terror.  What could I say to these people on this Board to convince them to give me this job? Would I now be able to truly fulfill my purpose?

My wise friend, who was much older and experienced than I, said I should not be intimidated by the interview or the process.  She explained all jobs were the same, essentially. Whether it's for a temporary job or a long-term career, our job is to help. My "job" in the interview was to communicate to them how I could help their organization fulfill its mission and purpose successfully.

Our paid jobs are often (but not always) connected to our sense of purpose.  In our greater life purpose or spiritual calling, our responsibility is to help fulfill goals and purposes that are larger than us. At work and in life, we wonder if we are making an impact, fulfilling our purposes, and enjoying our lives.  When we believe that we are not effective--doing our best work, helping the most people, or living our best life--we make a move.  That's what I did when I jumped my job ship before my life raft was ready.

There I was--in the "figuring."  I knew that social work was fulfilling, but that it is also largely thankless and increasingly difficult.  In the beginning of my career, no one warned me about burnout, secondary trauma, or compassion fatigue for social workers.  I was certainly not educated on how to help and support my staff with these concerns.  I began to question everything.  Was I still cut out for this work?  Was it time to pursue this dream job of leading a whole organization on my own, or should I wait and look for work closer to home...with less responsibility...in my comfort zone?  Had my purpose or calling changed? Did I have a purpose anymore?

Finding our life purpose is not a one-time event.  It is a lifelong process.  We may have heard that "God has a greater plan" and that we are a small part of that.  In our own lives, what we do for work, creativity, justice, and mission is all-consuming. We want to know that how we spend our talents, energy, time, and work is making the difference that we are uniquely intended to make.  It is something that we continually evaluate as we change and grow.

What is my purpose?  What is my calling? 

When asking these questions, consider the "job description" that my wise friend offered.

Find a problem.  Problems are not hard to find at all!  There is a cause or issue in this world that is very close to your heart.  You dream about this (or have nightmares).  You want to help these folks right away.  Whatever that issue is and/or wherever that group of people is, that is where you are being "called."  As long as you still have passion for it, it is part of your purpose.

Ask three people who know you well what they think your passion is in terms of helping others or solving the world's problems.  Consider the feedback you get.  Compare it to how you see your own heart for those around you.

Solve a problem.  You have an answer to "the problem" that makes sense.  You want to work on ridding the world of this dread.  You know what the people who face this problem need.  You want to invent something, or educate others, or speak up about it.  You want to join in the good work that others are doing and make it better.  You are part of the solution.  This work for good is calling you.

Consider the top three issues or problems you learned from asking people who know you well.  Try to sum up the "real" answer to each of the problems in one sentence each.  Does the sentence resonate with you?  Is that something you would like to work on?

Don't be a problem.  No one wants things to be worse, so consider your purpose to be the job of eliminating a challenge, a worry, or a difficulty.  You want your presence to make things easier rather than more difficult.

This can be tricky.  Almost by definition, the person who identifies the problem and works to resolve it is often seen as the problem themselves.  For example, thanks largely to labor unions, American workers have a five-day standard workweek rather than one that is seven-days and 100 hours.  The union organizers who fought for fair wages and safe working conditions under the threat of termination and even violence were often identified as rabble-rousers.  They did not do so in order to "be a problem," but challenging the establishment was required to make a change.

Whether your purpose or calling leads you to help overthrow an oppressive order, change an established structure, or advance in a direction, be sure that you are doing so for a clear reason with a clear vision.  Whenever possible, be creative about ways to make change.  Include the visions and talents of others whenever possible to help make the work you do better.  Bring others along rather than excluding them.  Keep the benefit of the whole in mind at all times.  Try not to focus on your own personal promotion or to center your own needs over those of others.  Point your actions always toward the greater good. 

Think about ways that people have said you have been helpful to them.  Do you give good advice?  Are you creative at problem-solving?  Are you able to mobilize a large group of people fairly quickly in real life or online? This might be part of your life's work.

For my dream job interview, I put in my all. I explained my ideas for solving some of their most pressing problems.  I communicated my passion for the mission and committed to working with the community to help meet the organization's goals.  With 100% of the votes from the board of directors, I got that dream job! 

As long as we are alive, things change. Circumstances change.  We change.  Our purposes and calls may change, but our work remains the same:  to help others, and to make the world around us a better place.  Our "real job" is to figure out how to do that.


Nicole Kirksey is the author of The G.O.D.A.S.S.E.T.S.:  God's Investment in You and What to Do With It. Resources for helping you find your purpose and calling are on her blog at www.CoachNicole.com.

[Article posted April 30, 2019]