For achievement-oriented, Type-A people who love a challenge, finding our purpose at work can easily become a single-minded pursuit.
We make five-year plans.
We chase promotions.
We cut out as many “distractions” from our lives as possible.
And then we focus on what really matters: the path that leads us to whatever “purpose” might be for us, whether that’s building a Fortune 500 company, or becoming the next New York Times bestselling author.
I’ve experienced that single-minded drive. I know how important it can feel to stay on track, to get to the next step in your career. To feel like you’re making progress.
That said, making progress and finding your purpose may not go hand in hand.
Over the past several years, I’ve realized that finding your purpose may not come through relentless pursuit.
Sometimes you have to take your foot off the gas and look around you to find your purpose…or to allow your purpose to find you.
We’re actually more likely to find our true purpose by letting go — by taking a step back, surrendering and allowing our purpose to show itself to us.
I never thought my purpose was to work with women. But then I started a marketing and PR agency focused on supporting and building platforms for women.
I never imagined I would be an author. But here I am, a week and a half after the release of my first book, The Feminine Revolution, a book I co-authored with Catherine Connors.
In fact, I didn’t expect my life, or current business to look almost anything like it does — and yet, I know I’m on the right path and am living a purposeful life each day, in ways I couldn’t possibly have created through my typical approach of “relentless pursuit.”
If you’ve been struggling with this issue in your own work, here are a few pieces of advice.
1. Don’t be too rigid, either in your career path or business plan.
Too much planning and rigidity only limits our opportunities.
When I started Stanton & Company, a public relations and marketing agency, we focused solely on representing female athletes. At the time, 12 years ago, I felt that athletes were generally not being represented with integrity and nobody was focused on female athletes specifically.
I wanted to change the industry one client at a time.
So I signed several truly inspirational female athletes, and began marketing them that way.
But I soon realized female athletes and women’s sports was just the starting point. So when Pure Organic, a healthy snack company, approached us requesting marketing help, I was excited to accept the challenge to think bigger about the business and our future.
These were pieces of a broader healthy, active lifestyle…and business. My initial framework for the business was limited and there was a bigger opportunity.
I realized I had to allow Stanton & Company to unfold however it was going to — guided, but not restricted, by my initial concept for the company.
Today, we still work with female athletes, but the majority of our work is with philosophy-driven brands that are focused on making a positive impact.
And I’ve realized that not only is it a bigger business opportunity, but the healthy, active living space is also where my true passion lies. In fact, it’s much better suited to me than my original plan for the company.
It’s important to have a purpose and vision for your brand at inception, but don’t consider a shift in purpose as forfeiting purpose altogether. There are so many fulfilling ways you can be of service to the world. You don’t have to limit yourself, or your company, to just one.
2. Pay attention to what makes you feel motivated and when you feel happiest throughout your day.
When the work you’re doing is truly purposeful, you’ll know it — as long as you’re paying attention.
When I was asked to head up marketing and communications for New York City’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics (NYC2012), I had some reservations.
As a California girl, I didn’t know much about New York (even though I had been living in the city for several years). I didn’t know anything about sports, let alone the Olympics. And at first, I wasn’t even sure it was a good idea to bring the Olympics to New York!
But after meeting with NYC2012’s leaders, I was sold. New York was still mourning 9/11, and the bid was a way to help the city heal by bringing positive energy and uniting New Yorkers around a shared, positive goal.
It felt important — meaningful.
And even though we failed to win the bid (we knew it was a long shot), I still walked away with a supreme sense of purpose. I realized that I was willing to work infinitely harder when I felt motivated by doing good.
I knew then that I wanted to feel that way throughout my career.
Of course, everyone feels motivated by different things — the important thing is that you notice what those things are.
They may be grand causes, like bringing the Olympics to New York, or saving an endangered species. Or they might very well be details of the work you’re already doing.
Maybe you had a great day today because you spent most of it immersed in creative work.
Or you had a highly productive conversation with a client.
Perhaps you spent it donating your professional time to a cause that means a lot to you.
Your purpose is in there, somewhere. You just have to allow it to emerge. And you have to be ready to see it.
3. Engage in new experiences.
Trying something new and pushing your boundaries is one of the best ways to open yourself up, and allow your purpose to find you.
For me, co-authoring a book was a completely new experience.
I never intended to write a book — but I allowed it to happen. I found myself thinking deeply about femininity and the role it was playing in my life, and when I met my co-author Catherine, she was equally intrigued by the topic, coming at it from a different yet complementary perspective.
We had a lot to say to each other, and, we felt, something to contribute to the culture. Writing a book made sense.
New experiences don’t have to be time-consuming or intensive. The only requirement is that they broaden your horizons.
Whether it be taking a vacation in which you immerse yourself in another culture, or adopting a new creative hobby like journaling, poetry, or painting, the opportunity always exists to do something entirely brand new.
This advice is geared toward everyone, but especially control freaks (I’m comfortable including myself in that category, especially since we talk in The Feminine Revolution about why it’s powerful to embrace your controlling side!).
When we get too caught up in trying to make things happen, we tend to miss opportunities to expand our view.
We should always have our eyes wide open and looking around — so that in turn, we can be open to the possibility that there are other ways to approach our life and our work.
When we’re thinking of ways to open ourselves up, meditation is an incredibly useful tool for allowing our purpose to find us.
Honestly, it’s a useful tool for allowing, in general — allowing yourself to slow down, let go, and regain your bearings.
This is important because after meditation, when you re-enter your current situation with a clear and open mind, you often find new sources of inspiration you hadn’t noticed or taken advantage of before.
And through inspiration often comes purpose.
It always happens that way, it seems. Purpose isn’t something that can simply be had or found. Rather, it finds you — sometimes when you least expect it.
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Originally published on Medium.