Saturday 13 April 2013

Can you find the answer to ‘what is the purpose of your life?’ in your work?

I have on occasion (at talks on career development in the workplace) spoken about purpose as a means to anchor an individual’s attempts to chart a career development plan and then navigate the same. For me purpose is “the aim that someone wants to achieve or that something is intended to achieve” but for some reason when I am talking about  'purpose of work' as a means to motivate how we engage in the workplace some listeners have surprisingly asked me the ‘What is the purpose of your life?’ This question then takes the meaning of purpose to the ‘overwhelming’ position of being “an aim or meaning in your life because there is something that you want to achieve.”

Rather than remind the questioner that I am focused on the concept of purpose as an anchor for career development planning or establishing career or profession related options I would outline that my purpose in life was/is to create a positive impact on the people that I work with and motivate others as they work through their careers. The look on the listener’s face(s) led me to believe that they were looking for a loftier response befitting my being part of the human race (the most intelligent creature on this planet) or reflective of the greatness of god as he created us and surely his creations were sent to this planet with the highest of purpose!

I am not an atheist but I am sure that
seven billion people on this planet cannot all be on this planet for a purpose or in search of purpose in their lives. Not when half of humanity on this planet lives in abject poverty and humans still face a child mortality rate that shows we lose more than five million children a year. I know that people would argue that such people would be evermore in need of a purpose to get through life. In my opinion, this argument is more reflective of their need for an 'excuse to live' rather than 'purposeful living'.

Talk to any soldier who is willing to die for his or her country and you realise that their purpose to serve and protect is sufficient to drive a willingness to give the highest sacrifice. Conversely,
Victor Frankl survived a Nazi concentration camp and outlined how by giving a sense of purpose to those living in abject misery helped them develop a temperament to absorb the atrocities being committed and generated a will to survive. Despite these examples, deciphering the purpose of one’s life becomes a herculean task when you have to make sense of advice such as “The purpose of life is a life of purpose” (Robert Bryne) or realise that you are at the mercy of a higher power “Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21) or subscribing to the simple notion that the purpose of life changes as a person moves through the various stages of their life. In fact, Hinduism encourages one to satiate their desires but also talks about undertaking actions to rise above desire(s) to reflect dynamism in purpose!

Most responses to ‘what is the purpose of your life?’ leave me bewildered and asking ‘So what does that mean exactly from a day to day point of view? What constitutes steps to show how you will achieve your life’s purpose?’ I came across this simple yet powerful exposition on purpose by
Bernard Kelvin Clive “You may or may not make a million dollars in life, a song may not be sung in praise of you, monuments may not be erected in your name but promise me this: to live life fully, to give wholeheartedly, to do your best with what you have, to impact souls, to use your gifts and talents to serve humanity, to live, love and leave a legacy in your own way.” I realised that the question ‘what is the purpose of your life’ is designed to elicit a response to show how impactful our presence will be to our fellow men and the world! Some element of exaggeration comes in and we end up with a purpose that is meaningless and unachievable or utterly simple [I had one person tell me that his life’s purpose was to respect his elders whereas I think that is an integral part of being human].

The response to ‘what is the purpose of your life’ need not be a ground breaking achievement or the pursuit of perfection that makes you one in a million. Not all of us are destined to be Gandhi or Mandela but all of us can make an impact on those around us (in some form or fashion). The answer is not always about outlining how we live out a meaningful life but perhaps about what we deliver in our life that is meaningful to others?

We spend half of our ‘awake life’ (non-sleeping life) at work so how about incorporating that reality into how we respond to ‘what is the purpose of your life?’ [If you still don’t get the relevance then here is another metaphor to jolt you into reality -- we spend a substantial proportion of our working time working for our respective tax authorities. So next time someone asks you who you work for you might want to consider your response carefully!].

One piece of advice that I came across simply stated that “If you cannot figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose” (Bishop TD Jakes). Your passion or your purpose does not need you to separate your corporate work life with your personal life. How you live your corporate life can also contribute to how you bring purpose to your life. For me, I spend an inordinate amount of time at work developing, guiding and coaching people that work with me. If the purpose of your life is to share happiness and serve handicapped children then extend that passion at work to create a sense of community and camaraderie with other likeminded people. Volunteerism and socially responsive activities are tremendous means to deliver on purpose especially when one is trying to decipher purpose as a notion that takes one closer to god or divinity.

I do know one thing. Having a sense of purpose in tackling issues and problems has helped me in giving direction and boundaries to how my mind tackles stress and eliminates confusion.
Having a purpose gives focus and clarity. It also allows a person to ascertain the sacrifices that they must make to achieve the purpose. The investment we are willing to make has a direct correlation with the sense of purpose that we attribute and use to drive certain behaviours. Is your purpose to make more money? Is your purpose to be a role model to others? The response is typically grounded in an individual’s value system. Hopefully, your purpose is linked to the values that you cherish or subscribe to.In the end the highest reward for any kind of work is not what you get from it (salary, experience or learning) but what you become by it. Try to figure out your purpose in life and don’t be shy to incorporate elements of purpose of work in your response. Is this a utopian ideal? I think that we create madness and a deep sense of frustration when we try to stretch ourselves in an attempt to deliver on the amorphous concept of purpose in life. Remember ‘life’ is what you make of it.

And of course, I cannot end this write-up without outlining my purpose in life – "I believe that the purpose of my life is to find every opportunity in the corporate world to develop, motivate and guide those that I come in extended contact with."

What do you think?

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1 comment:

  1. I am not sure one can always find purpose in work, apart from the intellectual ******* which some of the lucky ones have from time to time. Yes but one does become to a lot of extent as the work he does.

    THe strangest part to me is as has been quoted by many(veterans of the corporate world) "This is a corporate world, there is a corporate ladder and its a corporate jungle with the survival of the fittest and the company or the manager has no moral obligation (like a teacher has for his/her students) that all the team members grow equally in the team".

    As soon as the corporate world is compared to a jungle, the very process of human evolution has come to an halt. I believe the next evolution or the purpose of life in work or otherwise is not taking survival of the fittest to the next level but ensure fitment of all and the survival of all.

    As survival is the very basic need for all other purposes to exist.

    The very notion of the survival of the fittest as by Mr. Darwin would never lead us to the evolution where the human race can reach that is the fittest survival of all.

    I believe Corporate Social responsibility first has to be an internal phenomenon within the company itself and only then would it be able to reflect at a larger scale in the outside world.

    There are very few companies who pay attention to the physical and mental well being of its employees, so going by the Darwin's theory where does there logic go. the corporate believes in survival of the fittest and social responsibility. The champions in this world would then be the companies who pay attention to the physical and mental well being of its employees.

    How many countries or companies in the world yet have any checks on physical fitness of their employees when they hire them.

    How many companies in the world actually pay attention to making exercise and yoga, mental exercises compulsory for their employees or make it part of their appraisal cycle.

    What do thou :) think ?