Job as a proxy for purpose – a hazardous path



This is an internal debate I have been struggling with in recent times: What is my purpose? Why do I look to my “job” for my purpose in life? Why do I ask so much of my job? Why do I only look there to find purpose?

I think the best way to explore this is to share my personal experience on this topic.

On the one hand, I spend the majority of my waking hours at my job. I work hard at my job, and always want to do well at my job. This means I expend most of my energy at my job. I feel good about my day when I accomplish big things at work, and feel terrible when I have failed at work. I spend countless hours, when not at work, thinking and dreaming of ways to improve things at work.

Of most import is that when someone asks me what I do, my answer always is, “My job.” My identity is unfailingly connected to my job. I don’t think I am alone in this. In fact, I am quite certain this is true for so many of us.

For the most part, I am okay with this. I am proud of the work I do, I love the company I work for, and my coworkers are exceptional. I believe that there are times I have made a difference for my employees and for my company. I take pride in that. I genuinely believe that what my company does makes a positive difference in my community and my world.

Now, though, consider the other hand. I am a “creative.” I am much, much more than my job. What excites me the most is inspiring others to see new and different possibilities for our future. I want to create change in our world. I want to sing and laugh and dance and help others to envision and realize brighter destinies for us all.

Can I do this at work? Sometimes. Except maybe the dancing. But herein lies the danger…

If I look to my workplace to constantly provide me the opportunities to be the inspiring, creative person I dream of being, I am absolutely going to be disappointed. And frustrated. And angry. I will likely become disengaged, distracted and if it goes on long enough, toxic to my workplace. The business I work for has a purpose, and that purpose is not to fulfill my individual dreams and goals. It might support me in my efforts to improve and grow, but working for a large company, the alignment will not always be 100%.

So rather than be disappointed and disheartened that I cannot realize my full purpose at work, I must look elsewhere. I must supplement my need for purpose with activities outside the workplace. And this is what I recommend for everyone who is struggling to find purpose at work. Look elsewhere. Be your best self at work. Strive to achieve all you can at work. But don’t put the burden on work to fulfill your true purpose in life.

Here are some suggestions on where I look:

  1. Community involvement – so many programs in our communities need help. Volunteer, take on a leadership role, or start your own organization!
  2. School – there is so much to learn! Get a new degree, study a new subject, take an online course, or even consider teaching a class
  3. Art classes – stretch yourself by trying something new! You never know what you might discover about yourself in a painting, pottery, glass, or dance class
  4. Church – quite a bit of purpose to be found here. The opportunities are endless.
  5. Side-hustle – start your own business!

What other ideas do you have for finding your purpose in life? Please share!

As always, keep it positive and smile! Hope you had a happy Monday!


Labels: One way to think about them


Last week I participated in the Truth Rebellion (#thetruthrebellion), an Instagram campaign led by @ashley.beaudin, the leader of The Imperfect Boss ( The idea was to examine labels we, as women, carry around with us, given to us by others, that do not accurately represent our truths. By visibly striking that word and replacing it with a word that does define us, we step into our power and take back our control.

This ‘assigning’ of labels can happen in the workplace as often as it happens in our private lives. We often let our workplaces, our bosses, our coworkers place labels and expectations on us that are not our own. I spoke of this in a previous post. I want to be careful to differentiate between expectations about job performance, and expectations around who we are as individuals. These are two different things. My boss is absolutely allowed to expect certain things of me for the price of my paycheck. What he/she cannot do is define who I am or who I want to be.

Some of my favorite word pairs I saw in the several hundred posts include unworthy which became worthy, limited became limitless, failure became risk-taker, naïve became ready to bloom, and loud became voice of truth. Stubborn became strong, busy became productive,  too quiet became good listener, bossy became leader, and reckless became fearless. These are such empowering ways to reframe words that were given to us in an attempt to name our limits, and turn them into words we give ourselves, naming our potential.

My word was emotional. Here at work, well meaning individuals, along with those who perhaps did not have my best interest at heart, have told me I am too expressive, too dramatic, that I wear everything on my sleeve. I have had many conversations with bosses over the years, bosses I have loved and respected, along with those who, to put it mildly, I did not love and respect, where they patiently explain to me that I need to ‘calm down’ and ‘hold back.’

In the next breath, these same individuals will praise my drive and ability to push for what is important. While they ‘do not want to stifle that’ (like they could!), they’d like to see me – what? Perfect my poker face? I suppose that is what it is. Perhaps they are right. Professional presence is important, and personal branding is a big deal. But here is the problem – up until now, I have let them define me. I have let them pick the word. I have given away the power to use what I am to my advantage.

So here is the truth – I am PASSIONATE. I will fight for what I believe is right, and I am not afraid to speak up. When I am delighted, I love to celebrate, and to share that delight with everyone around me. When I am inspired, I want to bring others along with me. When I am shocked or disappointed, I believe others should know that, and you will see that in me. I am professional in the way I express all of this, and I am appropriate and controlled in my responses. But there is never any mistake on which side of an issue I fall.

Today I reject the idea that I am emotional, and embrace the idea that I am passionate.

What words do you reject? What do you claim in their place? Please share!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

Happy Monday!

Positivity in the workplace is a must!

smileThere is much talk around the need for positivity in the workplace, and I am here to tell you it is all true! Moods and attitudes spread like wildfire, and all it takes is one bad apple left unattended to spoil the whole work environment. What can make it even worse is two bad apples who inspire each other to lower and lower depths of negativity.  This kind of poisonous environment can have repercussions that ripple through an organization like a a boulder tossed into an otherwise pristine and peaceful lake.

I share here a personal story of mine that illustrates how easily this can happen and how it can affect a person completely unrelated to the negative situation.  Many years ago, I found myself sitting in the middle of a sea of cubicles.  I had direct access to my coworkers on every side for what seemed like miles and miles.  Great for communication, and, unfortunately, the perfect environment for spreading negativity.

Over the wall in one direction sat a lady who was highly talented, highly opinionated, and who had a difficult job.  Her job involved working directly on the phone with customers who often needed education, explanations, and assistance.  Across the aisle from her sat another talented, opinionated lady who also had a difficult job.  Her job involved interacting with these customers in a different capacity, evaluating their suitability for our product.

The problems began when these two ladies discovered that they held similar opinions about these customers.  One would complain about a recent phone call, how “stupid” the customer had been. The other would agree, and then share a different story about a worse phone call with an even “dumber”customer.  The first, sensing the competition, would then remember another situation that was even worse than that!  For some reason, these ladies had an inordinate amount of time to talk (surprising given the number of terrible or ridiculous phone calls they purported to have taken), and this back and forth would continue throughout the day, day after day.

Sitting over the wall from this I never once participated in these conversations, mostly because I was not invited to participate. But I took the negativity with me.  I remember being very upset leaving work every day and having no clear understanding of why. I hated work even while I loved my job and loved my company. Sometimes I was driven to tears on the drive home. This went on for some time. At some point someone must have finally noticed what was going on because without any explanation, the two women were separated.

I remember the next day as clearly as if it had happened yesterday.  It felt as if the sun had come out from behind the clouds.  The birds were chirping and even the air smelled sweeter.  The heavy cloak of negativity was obliterated and the entire atmosphere was different.  I drove home happy and smiling from work that day and each day after (well, most days anyway). Others took longer to recover, but for me the relief was instantaneous.

It took a little bit of time and distance to understand what had happened and what had caused the change.  Fortunately I stuck around long enough to get past the negativity, but I know others who left, who could not tolerate such a toxic environment. What a shame. To think it all stemmed from the conversation between two women complaining back and forth about their customers is rather incredible and should serve as a lesson to all leaders.

We need to pay attention to the atmosphere in our workplaces. We need to look for negativity, we need to take seriously any signs of it, and we must actively and expediently dispel it. The consequences of not acting are dire. Good talent will leave, productivity will decline, and the negativity will spread. Recovering from such a situation can be a lengthy and painful ordeal, and can result in more turmoil before the negativity is fully eliminated.

Even better idea – promote positivity! Every day and in every way you can.

Happy Thursday, and keep it positive and smile!