Photo by Jeff Kingma
I speak to many people each week who suffer from a nagging doubt that they are not fulfilling their destiny. It may show up as a sense of frustration or disappointment in current circumstances, as sense of falling out of love with one’s career or it may be a lingering sense of missing out, that there is more to life if only one knew where to look for it.
As far as I am aware, there are two schools of thought on the subject: the Steve Jobs ‘do what you love” angle, where we are encouraged to believe that firstly, there is a single thing that each of us loves and, secondly, that it is possible to build a life (and income) around it. The other view is that you need to get good at something and the love for it will follow.
What's interesting is that these seemingly opposing pieces of advice are only helpful for people who have something that they know they want to do and don’t offer much in the way of crumbs for people who may have a range of things that they are mildly interested in. The British education system is not designed for what we could refer to as generalists, because it asks us to start homing in on our careers when we are in our mid-teens: first with GCSEs and then more ruthlessly with A-levels. People often make choices based on what they believe they will get good grades at or based on external guidance (parents, teachers, etc) rather than having a strong sense of self-direction.
At some point, many people who have been following this path, chaining from one near-term goal to the next - get good grades, get a degree, get a job, get a promotion, and on and on and on - wake up and wonder where they are and whether they are happy with their lives. This is summed up beautifully in the song Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads which encapsulates the thoughts of someone who has woken up to a life that they made unconsciously. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model helps to explain this: they may have been focusing on the lower parts of the pyramid, addressing their physiological and safety needs and hadn't paid much attention to considering their more sophisticated needs of esteem or self-actualisation.
Helping people make sense of who they are and what their purpose is, is is something I do a lot of. I work with people when they feel that change is needed at work, either because it’s being imposed on them, due to a restructure maybe or because they feel like they are trapped. One of the key activities we do is to explore their purpose. I have already shared my preferred tools for this, which are the IKIGAI and Simon Sinek’s “What, How, Why”.
Finding your purpose is like finding your true self, the person trapped under all the weight of cultural expectations, undamaged by life's challenges, the person you were born to be. Be careful because once you meet them, your life will never be the same. You will have a glimpse of your future and there is no going back from there. Are you ready to meet the real you?
25 years experience in helping teams build user centred products and services, now helping digital colleagues learn how to bounce back better than before from the challenges life throws at us from time-to-time.