As marketers, we are well versed in the need to understand the purpose of the products and services we work with. We know we have to find that unique point of difference that makes a connection between the product and the consumer.
Simon Sinek articulates it powerfully in his TED talk about starting with the ‘why’. When you find that elusive connection, great relationships between brands and their consumers occur, and just as purpose-driven companies have been proven to have improved performance, so too have purpose-driven people.
Getting to grips with your purpose can offer significant benefits for you personally and professionally. Research by New Scientist has identified that people who have a sense of their purpose sleep better, have reduced risk of depression and even live longer. Knowing your professional ‘why’ can help you to make better career decisions and build deeper, more authentic relationships.
Personally, I have found that being able to articulate my purpose has been helpful in explaining what I want to achieve in my career and securing help and support from others. My purpose is all about acting as a ‘growth magnet’, spotting opportunities, leading through change and creating new sources of growth.
I think of purpose as a compass: something that can help guide actions, even when you are consumed by the day-to-day busyness of work.
When I share my ‘why’ and how this has played out in my career, people have a better understanding of what I’m all about and where I am best placed to deliver value. Whether you’re talking about your development at work or giving a presentation at an event, being able to succinctly share your ‘why’ is a career super-skill worthy of investment.
I think of purpose as a compass: something that can help guide actions, even when you are consumed by the day-to-day busyness of work. However, ‘what is my purpose?’ is such a huge question that it’s easy to get lost in deep, time-consuming soul searching while you find the answer. Thankfully, there are some useful exercises that can help you to make progress and start applying insights to your work life.
It will take a bit of reflection to get to a purpose that feels meaningful and consistent. Rather than getting stuck trying to get it exactly right straight away, you can generate insights based on your experiences that may give you clues as to what your purpose could be. Three questions to get you started are:
- What is the work you’re most proud of and why?
- Who do you admire and why?
- What are your career boomerangs (i.e. the things you keep coming back to in different roles)?
Often, when you look back you can see patterns in your work, where you have felt most energised or where you have been most successful. It is in these moments that the clues will exist.
In much the same way that we would create memorable purpose statements for brands and businesses, it is useful to apply your insights and try to create one for yourself. This will make your purpose clearer in your own mind and help you to talk about it with other people.
When you’re writing your purpose statement, try to avoid too much corporate jargon: the simpler and stickier your words are the better. Run it by a few colleagues to get their views on your phrasing. The more comfortable you become about sharing your purpose, the more likely you are to find work that aligns with it. So, find an authentic way of talking about it with people.
Success is a statement that feels unique and credible to you, which you’re not embarrassed to talk about with people. Using a phrase like ‘what is most important to me is…’ can feel more natural than stating ‘my purpose at work is to…’.
The closer you align where you work and what you work on with your purpose, the happier you will be and the more value you will deliver for your organisation. However, it is not always easy to do and there are often times in your career when, even if you know your purpose, the alignment can feel a bit ‘off’. There are practical steps you can take, though, to bring things back into place.
The first thing to think about is your personal measures of success. Sometimes corporate targets don’t tie back to the things that are meaningful to you.
For my purpose, for example, I measure my success by looking at how many opportunities I have spotted and where my input has created new sources of business value. The more of these moments there are and the more positive the impact I have had, the more aligned I feel with my purpose.
When you have identified your personal measures, you can think about projects or business problems you could solve that align with your purpose. Create a plan about how you would approach these challenges and share it with your manager or relevant stakeholders internally.
If you can’t find an opportunity internally, think about side-projects you could start externally. This is something I have done personally with my venture Amazing If and found it hugely rewarding.
Finally, identify people who care about the same things as you. These people will inspire you with their beliefs and their achievements. They are great to bounce ideas off and can help you to increase your impact by working together with them.
A purpose-led career does require an ongoing investment of time and effort, but it does give meaning to the time we spend at work. When you think about the hours you invest and how personally involved you get in your work, having that compass in mind can provide you with the clarity and direction to make it all worthwhile.
Helen Tupper is marketing director at Microsoft DX and founder of Amazing If.