We can so often get drawn into taking the next step up the ladder because it is expected of us without checking whether it really takes us further to fulfilling our purpose and passion.

Are you trapped in what you have to do?

Trevor (not his real name) used to work for a professional services firm, and he was on the track to becoming a partner in the business.  He liked the organisation but as he got more and more senior, he was further and further from doing what he enjoyed: solving problems for clients and then making the change happen.  So, he decided to do something about it and just as he was preparing to leave, he realised that 80% of his email inbox was for internal initiatives, demands and requests, and barely 20% had anything to do with making a difference for customers.

There’s a powerful insight in Tony Robbins TED talk about our human needs and he explains that two of the keys to being fulfilled as a human being is that we continue to grow and that we contribute beyond ourselves. Not in some random way but in line with our passion to make a difference.  We ignore this truth at our peril.

What about you? Trevor courageously made the leap and started a portfolio workstyle doing the impactful work that he loves for a handful of growing businesses.  He now spends much more of his day focused on making a difference rather than cranking the corporate handle with very little to show for it.

Finding your flow

Finding your purpose and passion can take time.  It can be hard to think deeply about what you really care about and to strip out expectations, self-limiting beliefs, and the structures of standard career paths.

One powerful clue is to think about the times you have felt ‘flow’ in your life.  ‘Flow’ is when you are engrossed in an activity and time doesn’t matter. Flow can also be where you feel contentment with a sense of personal purpose. It may evoke excitement and fresh energy.  It can be a key to where your desires and passions lie.

As the author, Robert Anthony, put it “Everyone is always motivated; just not for the things you want to be motivated for”.

Outside work, for some people it might be painting, or running or model-making.  In the workplace, it might be running workshops, listening to customer issues, meeting new people, sitting quietly in a room researching, preparing accounts and much more.  It might be when you are working with particular issues or customers.  How can this give you clues as to where the passion and determination to serve becomes clear?

As you examine your experience of ‘flow’ consider:

  • When and where have you found flow in your life so far?
  • What was it about those situations that made the flow happen?

Now you have some clues as to purpose and passion.

How much of your working life are you living this?

I would encourage you to reflect on the activities you expect to do in the coming week.  How much of each working day can you say that you are really living your purpose and passion?

  • How many hours do you spend doing activities that cover your purpose and passion? For example, if you enjoy being a problem solver, or you love coaching and building team members up – how much of the week is doing that?
  • How many hours do you spend supporting that purpose and passion?  That might be winning the work to do this, or some of the administration around it.

But the killer is how many hours do you spend that has nothing to do with your purpose and passion?  For example you might be getting other people to do this, or it might be internal politics, and administration. It might be parts of the job description that aren’t your purpose and passion.

So, what are you going to do about it?

If you are finding that most of your time at work is doing stuff that neither gives you flow, nor helps you prepare for it, then what options to you have?  As you think about your purpose and passion, could you change just one thing about your working life to get more flow? – from your existing employer?  By changing to a different organisation culture?  By moving towards a different style of working?  By taking more control of how you spend your working life?

Conclusions

It may be that you are entirely happy with your current workstyle and that it fulfils all your needs for purpose and passion.  Or it may be that you realise there is a very big gap between what you are doing and what you want to be doing in the future.

Whatever your conclusion, hold strong to charting a course that moves you closer to your purpose and passion and recognise that as you build momentum your sense of purpose and passion will sharpen and evolve.