“HELP!” “I need help in choosing my career!” “How do I decide what career to pursue?” This is a common query we hear from students. Many make their first career choice based on what other people in their lives tell them, what everyone else is doing, where the money is, what’s hot in the current job market, what job a relative can get them, the “prestige factor” of being a doctor or lawyer, or some other criteria that is external to who they are as a person.
The answer to the question “what career to pursue” is inside you. Well-meaning friends, parents, professors, even a spouse are doing a disservice by insisting you follow a career course that is not really for you. The more self-knowledge you have and emotionally evolved you are, and the less dependent you are on the wishes of others, the more your career choice will reflect the true you. Why is that so important? Because each of us has a unique life purpose that we need to fulfill before we reach our unknown-to-us expiration date.
In Career Services we have developed a well-defined career search process. The first, and most often ignored, step is self-assessment. Exploring strengths/challenges, likes/dislikes, skills, values and life purpose can guide a student in making his or her career choice. When most students initially meet with us they plan to create a resume. We start by asking them a simple question: why are you pursuing this career? The answer can be quite revealing. This is why we encourage students to see us early in their academic years.
Choosing a career without doing a self-assessment is like choosing a spouse based primarily on their weight, “good-looking-ness,” and social status. A career choice based on a thorough self-assessment, and specifically life purpose, will look and feel totally different than one based on external criteria. Although it is slowly changing, our fast-paced, instant gratification-oriented Western culture does not promote taking the time to slow down and look inside ourselves to discover who we are. Let’s explore the concept of life purpose which is not well understood or generally discussed.
Definition of Life Purpose
The simplest definition of life purpose is what each of us needs to accomplish in our lifetime. It is our internal guidance system. It is the reason we were born, with the likes/dislikes, strengths/challenges, skills, values, physical characteristics – everything that defines us. It is the “what I stand for;” it is my calling. It is a custom-designed, one-of-a-kind, personal mission to help each of us grow and evolve into what we need to become. It is uniquely yours, positive and designed to be of service to others. We are all created with a certain life setting that is custom tailored so that we can fulfill our unique life’s purpose.
You can have a general life purpose, like “I want to help people,” but you need to make it specific to you. The goal is to discover how you are going to put your calling into action, e.g., helping people who are in abusive marital situations.
If we sleep 8 hours a day, spend 8 hours a day doing shopping, eating, exercising, etc., then that leaves 8 hours a day for work. When my work is directly aligned with, or even better, helps fulfill my life purpose, it feels infinitely different than if I worked at something for some reason external to who I am. People who work in this way are much more satisfied, happy, passionate, dedicated and productive. They make better decisions and find satisfaction and fulfillment both at work and in life.
The experience of our Director of Career Services is a great case in point. He graduated from college with an accounting degree and went right into programming financial systems for the next 12 years. While he was good at it, it was not satisfying; something was missing! Through a series of circumstances, he started working on his personal development – reading books, going to seminars, etc. While working for JP Morgan Chase (JPMC) as a technologist at the VP level, he began redirecting his work efforts from systems development to the human implications of technology, including managing change, the human aspects of technology transfer, creativity, etc.