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To work or not to work…is that a question?

Are you tired of trying to find your purpose?

“Seriously?” — Leon Pawelzik, Hannover, 2019

“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life” — Mark Twain

What do I enjoy doing? What is my purpose in life?

Okay I admit it, I roll my eyes every time someone talks about finding their life purpose. Or even better when they say “do what you love”. Um, doesn’t doing by definition involve some form of work? And am I the only person out there who is not sure what I really love? I don’t know, it changes, and how do I make money from doing it anyway?

. . .

Are you one of the lucky ones?

At 45, I’ve moved to various cities and countries in my quest to find my purpose, paid for higher education, started numerous communities, and I am still trying to figure it out. After three degrees, certifications, seven cities, three countries, here is what I have come to realise…

Finding ones life’s purpose feels about as misleading as the concept of finding ones soul mate.

Yes, some people are lucky to find the “perfect partner”, the one that they were “meant to be” with. If they are really lucky they find them early on in life and they grow old together in their white picket fenced home, with their two or three children, and perhaps a dog.

Though let’s be honest, there is no such thing as perfect.

Even the most fabulous couples I know have to work at ensuring their relationship stays fabulous, through strong communication, kindness and respect. In fact — and we don’t even need to hear the stats any more — a high percentage of marriages end in divorce, there are many single parents slogging it out alone, and after the first flush of “love” the “perfect partner” can end up being a misogynist pig or a manipulative nag, and the fantasy ends in misery.

Let’s take a moment to feel pity for the next person we date, who must now deal with the dysfunction from our combined past experiences!

In the same vein, yes some people are talented and know what their life’s purpose is at an early stage, they are “born to be” a ballet dancer, basketball star, artist, musician, olympic athlete, mathematician, entrepreneur, innovator — the Richard Branson and Steve Jobs of the world. So they perfect their art form, they focus their work lives towards that singular goal and they are the best at what they do.

I confess, I am in constant awe of an athlete or artist who at the prime of their career has clearly perfected their craft and achieved what they sought. Nothing but respect.

What about the remaining 99% of us?

I belong to the other 99% and I am exhausted from both trying to find that “soulmate” or my “life’s purpose” — and maybe it’s time to get real.

Except for the lucky few who get it, the rest of us are still searching and it’s an ongoing battle. In fact, there are more and more articles about the bad advice given in trying to achieve the impossible. The one consistent fact in every article or book I have read, even the ones proposing we can work less and achieve more is that…we still have to work!

So let’s reframe the life’s purpose debate. What if instead of a “life’s purpose” it was really about finding out what motivates us?

  • Not a particular job

  • Not a particular partner

  • Not a particular role

Instead of this “who am I?” philosophical debate, what if we focused on determining:

  • The actual factors that make us feel motivated?

  • The situations that make us happy?

  • The activities that make us feel energised?

Then applying them to our lives whole-heartedly and creating the environments and circumstances that give us energy. Wouldn’t that be a more actionable and realistic approach?

How would that apply to work?

I recently read The Big Five for Life by John P. Strelecky, and while I wish everyone experienced the kind of leadership described in the book, I can’t imagine it’s common.

The book speaks about a leader who makes it a mandatory requirement to only hire people who can fulfil one of their Big Five by working at his company. The Big Five are the five things that would define success for you — like you are lying on your deathbed and feel at peace because you achieved them! — as simple as exercising every day, learning a new language or traveling the world. The idea is that if we can fulfil one of the big five through that role — maybe it has a gym on site, or an office in the country we want to learn the language of, or has a flexible sabbatical leave — then we will have energy and motivation to do a great job.

So maybe start here, what five things would define success for us, realistically? Hone down goal setting to five core drivers. Then use these as a guide to ensure we take on roles that will help us fulfil one of the big five, and thereby increase our energy.

Let’s find out what gives us energy and motivates us, and build our personal and professional lives around that framework of criteria to create true happiness. The only thing we can be sure of is — it will still require work!

But it will be worth it in the end.

. . .

Linkedin: Raj Hayer

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