Latest update: January 6th, 2013
“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.
In 1997 he was invited to join JPMC’s Human Resources department; this was a career transition moving from technology to HR. He attended seminars and workshops to become a workshop facilitator and diversity trainer. In a short time he was doing executive coaching, developing mentoring programs, and creating and facilitating personal development, team-building and diversity workshops.
At a diversity workshop that he facilitated, he remarked to a colleague, “I am being paid ‘to do me!’” It was an awesome realization. That experience motivated him to work on discovering his purpose in life because his work felt so fulfilling and enjoyable. He found just the right career/life coach to help him move into this area. His/Our goal is to have everyone be in a position where they say, “Hey, they are paying me ‘to do me!!’”
Determining Your Life Purpose
How do you determine your life purpose? The answer to this question cannot be solely intellectual, or you probably would have figured it out already. The answer has a strong emotional and spiritual component. Yes, spiritual!
How do I discover my life purpose so that I can design my work around my purpose? The Torah relates the clearest example of this phenomenon with Betzalel. It says clearly that Hashem gave him all of the attributes he needed to be able to accomplish his purpose in the world, i.e., craft the vessels for the Tabernacle.
So, what gifts have you been given by the Creator? There are books and workshops that contain exercises to help you answer that question. The underlying essence is to “go inside” yourself, i.e., meditate, journal, and/or have a coach who can guide you to discover your essence. There are many other approaches, including graphology, your birth date, the meaning of your Hebrew name, Dan Millman’s Life Purpose Calculator, Stephen Covey’s Personal Mission Statement, and others. One authority suggests that if you can’t figure it out, then guess what your purpose might be and test it over time as you pursue a career.
You can also get clues to your true purpose by looking at the books you read, the hobbies you pursue and what grabs you emotionally.
Sometimes a person’s specific life experience points to a career direction. Think of the people who have had a crisis, overcame or survived it and then went on to help others deal with a similar situation. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is such a case, as is Christopher Reeves’ spinal injury which caused him to work for those in similar situations.
The timeframes for getting to the answer can take anywhere from several months to 20 minutes. We can hear you saying, “I’ll take the 20 minute version!” However, to get to the answer will take time, effort and patience. In our Western lifestyle we are impatient and want instant answers. Being asked to meditate about a solution or situation would cause most people, especially men, to get up and leave. Be patient with yourself, experiment, research and cogitate about what career will work best for you. Career Services can help guide you through the process.
Some students ask, “Isn’t there an assessment test to tell me what career to pursue?” Our experience is that these tests provide a list of careers in which individuals with similar scores have done well. The problem is that the careers listed for one person vary greatly from electrician to brain surgeon, from accountant to farmer. Students generally do not find the results helpful.
If you are already working, how do you know if your career is aligned with your life purpose? Let’s assume you are making lots of money, have outstanding benefits and an impressive title in a prestigious company. How can you test whether you are working on purpose? Ask yourself: do I really enjoy what I am doing? Is it satisfying? Does the work come naturally? Are you constantly stressed out? Do you long for the end of the day, the weekend, or for vacation time so you can do what you truly enjoy and want to do? Are you contributing to a greater good? Do you feel something is missing at work? Is there a small, still voice inside of you that is trying to tell you something? Answering these questions will help you determine if you are working in this career for the right reasons for you personally.
By aligning your career choice with your life purpose, our wish for you is that you can have the incredibly satisfying and joyful experience of saying, “Hey, they are paying me to do me!”Ron Ansel
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