Whenever I speak or teach, someone in the audience asks about my journey to finding my professional purpose. Of course, we often look to others’ experiences as a guide — why and how did you do that? And what, if anything, can I learn from it?
I imagine those who inquire about my purpose journey feel they have greater value to add, more people to help, higher goals to achieve. You may be feeling a tug yourself, unsure of what to listen for, who to turn to or which steps to take.
Here, I offer 10 lessons I learned along the way to finding my purpose.
1. Know yourself better than anyone else knows you.
We don’t spend enough time figuring ourselves out. I’ve been surprised by how many aspiring leaders can’t answer fundamental questions about their professional purpose. What do you believe and value about leadership? Which skills and behaviors set you apart? What drives you? These are simple questions, but, collectively, their answers create the springboard from which we just might touch the sky.
2. Perfect your craft.
Whatever it is you do uniquely, do it a lot. I started as a greeting card writer. When I shifted into leadership, people asked if I missed writing. I didn’t, because although I wasn’t doing it for product anymore, I never stopped writing. I went from writing cards, to writing strategies, to writing presentations, to writing books, to writing articles. Keep doing what you do — in some way — so that you can get better. Your purpose depends on it.
3. Visualize your future.
Where do you want to be three years from now? I don’t mean Hawaii, though I wouldn’t balk if that was your answer. How do you want to contribute? What kind of environment would help you thrive? Visualize your ideal experience, either mentally or in a physical space like a vision board. See it so you can be it! Yes, it’s simple. Beautifully so.
4. Just begin.
Don’t wait for everything to perfectly align before you start doing what you believe you’re meant to do. I recently met a young professional who wanted to be a writer. We were talking about building a bridge from current reality to future goals. Because she still needed her full-time job, she felt stuck and feared she’d never have the time to do what she loves. It didn’t occur to her that she could write on the side. That doing so would help perfect her craft and foster connections she might later leverage to fulfill her purpose. Seems basic, but we often think in too linear a fashion. Life is a series of concentric circles, constantly overlapping, bolstering our opportunity to succeed.
5. Be generous.
Decide who you will help and how. Not because they can do something for you, but because you believe you have something valuable for them — a connection, a word of encouragement, a tip, a success formula. Being generous keeps you grounded and provides natural avenues to exercise your skills and strengthen your professional muscle.
6. Remember, you’re worthy.
Lack of confidence can be a tremendous barrier, especially for professional women. Maybe it’s the pressure to be perfect, or the fear of rejection, or the gravity of representing those who came before us and those who will come after.
We all have moments of doubt, especially when breaking new ground. Listen up: You are worthy — of the connections you make, the doors that open to you, fair compensation and equal opportunity. You’re worthy! And if you find yourself in a place where others don’t get that, remember this, too: You have choices. Be purposeful about making them.
7. People can’t take from you what they didn’t give to you.
Don’t ever take praise or criticism too seriously. While we learn from others and are often beneficiaries of their kindness and wisdom, your best bet is to point your assurance compass inward (sense of self) or up (a higher power). But not out! People’s opinions alone can’t make you awesome, and they can’t make you a failure, either. Feedback can be very instructive, but beware of the emotional pendulum swing that sometimes accompanies it.
8. Invest in you.
Take time to dream. To plan. To rest. To celebrate. To learn. Schedule appointments with yourself to do the things that keep you healthy and happy. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Fill your own cup first.” This feels counterintuitive at times, and some see it as contradictory to the notion of generosity. While I believe the more we give, the more we receive, I’ve learned to put myself on the receiving list.
9. Let purpose guide you.
Working on purpose is a gift in itself. It’s an intrinsic motivator — you’re working to accomplish something greater than the day’s task list. It creates harmony — your work and your life flow together. It gives you energy — doing what you believe you’re built for generates its own momentum. What were you gifted to do
10. Be flexible.
I believe in having a plan for your career. I also believe we must keep our minds open to opportunities as they present themselves. A plan is only as good as the circumstances surrounding it. When your circumstances change, sometimes your plans must change, too. Being too fixed on one possible outcome can hurt more than help. New inputs always require a fresh look at your path forward. Pay attention, and be open to the possibilities.
You have something the world needs. And only you can determine whether or not you’re positioned to provide it.