This article first appeared on Happify
Somewhere in midlife (and often before that), people begin to question some of the important aspects of their lives. Some question their romantic relationships. Some realize the importance of looking after their health and vitality.
But for the most part, people begin to wonder about their purpose. They wonder whether they are in the right profession, whether their work is meaningful, whether they are living the life they truly desire. This need to belong to something larger than a job or even a career is often initiated by a gnawing feeling of emptiness or joylessness. The search feels energizing when we are in our 20s, and more desperate as the years go on.
In my work as a positive psychology coach, I often meet clients at this crossroads of their lives. Some of them feel lost in the transient stage and need help figuring out their purpose for the journey forward. This is often an energizing search that builds on strengths of curiosity, of hope, and of connecting back to their authentic expression. However, many others come to me because they know what they want to do with their lives, but are stuck in the gap of a job or career that’s misaligned with their calling. They’re feeling frustrated and unhappy, and wondering whether they should opt out of their organizations or the workforce altogether.
If you relate to some of this, here’s what you need to know. A job that’s perfectly aligned with your authentic expression is unlikely to exist—and you may be in for a long and discouraging wait. It’s up to you to build coherence between your job and your purpose, so that your work permeates your life with a sense of meaning.
First Line of Action: Craft Your Job
Extensive research on job-crafting from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business shows that when people use their strengths at work and mold their jobs to fit with their authentic expression, not only do they perform better, but they also find greater joy in what they do. Personally, on days when writing feels like a chore and fails to energize me, I harness my strengths of perspective, kindness, or hope to empathize with people’s pain points and write with the wish that my words may impact them in a positive way. Think about aspects of your job that drain you, and see how you can use your strengths to feel engaged. You may also consider which tasks or roles may be better performed by others, so you can use your freed-up time for what brings out the best in you.
Second Line of Action: Expand Your Sources
Sometimes our jobs do not provide us with much flexibility to express the best we have to offer. In such cases, we can still find purpose in what we do by seeing how the job allows us to pursue our vision on the side. Perhaps it gives you the time, the financial support, or the fringe benefits that allow you to take out time for your children, your passions, or important causes that you care deeply about. It is important to make that connection so you feel grateful for and engaged in your job. What helps is to remind yourself that, in just the way that no single relationship can be the answer to all your needs (even though we tend to place that burden on our romantic partners), a job cannot be the only means to the difference you want to make in the world.
Last Line of Action: Find Another Job
There is always the possibility that your job is totally misaligned with your values, and that you are forced to be part of decisions you disagree with at your very core. Needless to say, life is too short to sell your soul—and one day, your soul will certainly question you and torment you about the choices you made. At the same time, it’s unwise to make impulsive decisions, especially when you also have mouths to feed and responsibilities that need your financial support. In such cases, get clear on what you’re looking for, target your job search, and stay in charge of the timing. This wiser approach keeps you from taking desperate measures, and allows you to be in a better position to find a job that’s aligned with your values and purpose.
At the end of the day, the purpose of having a purpose is to imbue your life with meaning. When you let your purpose be the guiding star, and your work the means toward it, you experience the joy and fulfillment of a well-lived life.