“I don’t know if I’m on the right path.”

“I need to know what I really want so I can figure out what I want to do with my career.”

“My job would mean more if I just knew what my purpose was.”

Do these thoughts sound familiar?

I hear comments like these over and over when I’m coaching young professionals.

As a group, Millennials tend to think more about a sense of purpose than workers in any other demographic.

Young people are looking for how they can make a difference. This is a good thing: Having a sense of purpose and contributing are the key to a happy and successful career.

The problem is that many young employees feel like they can’t contribute or be fulfilled until they know the “ultimate career path” they should be on.

In reality, building an increased sense of purpose will help you excel at whatever job you have.

More importantly, you can’t magically arrive at your sense of purpose. Instead, you have to get out in the world and contribute before you can find what you’re called to do.

What is a Sense of Purpose?

Mark Twain famously said, “The two most important days are the day you are born and the day you figure out why.”

Although there’s humor in this saying, we all relate to it, right? We want to know our purpose in life.

Scientist Dr. M. Sanjayman said that the sooner you become aware of a mission you want to devote yourself to that’s larger than yourself — larger than your fears of failing, larger than your need to be perfect — the more rapidly you’ll rapidly start to achieve your personal and professional goals, and therefore your sense of purpose.

Your sense of purpose comes from a passion that you’re naturally drawn to or good at. It arises when you get great satisfaction delivering value in a way that serves others.

Isn’t that interesting? It’s only when your stop focusing on yourself that your sense of purpose becomes clear.

What Does a Sense of Purpose Look Like?

I believe my sense of purpose is this theme that plays out in all aspects of my life where I devote myself to making others feel a sense of stability, strength, and happiness. This innate act or behavior has always been evident in my relationships with my family and in my work life, where I was focused on ensuring my associates had the best tools, knowledge and recognition. It also comes up in my service to others through donating time or money.

That sense of purpose naturally led me to this next chapter of my career, too, which is to mentor young professionals so they can achieve happier, more successful careers.

Even though I now serve people more directly, providing that sense of stability in more targeted ways, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose before in my corporate roles. In fact, the opposite is true: Without my career experience leading up to this point, I never would have gained the skills and perspective that now allow me to connect with my purpose at an even deeper level.

Your Sense of Purpose and Your Job

It’s very natural to want your sense of purpose to be connected to your job. That’s your work; it’s what you do.

But remember that your sense of purpose only reveals itself through your action. It can take a while to emerge.

It’s completely normal for your sense of purpose to remain undefined for 5+ years into your career. 

During this time, you’re exploring your skills and figuring out how you enjoy delivering value.

Don’t walk out on a job simply because you’re not sure of your sense of purpose; instead, use that job to uncover your purpose!

Ultimately, your career doesn’t have to be tied to your sense of purpose. Maybe you’ll find a job you really enjoy and that pays you well, and you’ll use the money you make from that job to fulfill your sense of purpose by volunteering in your community.

Even if your career isn’t tied to your sense of purpose — or if you still haven’t found your sense of purpose — it doesn’t mean that your job isn’t valuable. It’s helping you contribute value and explore what you feel called to do.

Find Your Sense of Purpose

Here is an exercise to help you explore what your sense of purpose might be. Sit down and clear your mind. Don’t judge what your sense of purpose “should be,” and don’t think about what other people want for you.

  1. Ask yourself what your mission is.
  2. Who are you on this planet to be?
  3. Think about when you’re 90 years old. When you look back, what do you want to be able to say about yourself? What do you want others say about you?

This might take time to mull over. Answers might come to you in a week, or a month, or a year. Even when you find your purpose, it won’t be static. It will keep developing and growing.

The key is not to wait to take action until you know your purpose. Purpose doesn’t just drop out of the sky and tell you what to do. You have to try out your skills and gain experience. You have to discover what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and what makes you feel fulfilled.

Take action! Take a job where you can learn new skills, behaviors, deliver results, and contribute at a team level. Get that feeling of delivering value and serving others. Ultimately, that will help you uncover your sense of purpose much sooner. If you want help understanding your mission, your career, or how they can intersect. [click here for a free mini session]

Image by Nick Beswick, Unsplash