“I just want to quit work and be a bartender!” Sarah blurted at a workshop I was leading. We were talking about career aspirations. When we were done chuckling at her unexpected words, I asked her what she loved about being a bartender. “You mean other than the drinks and tips?” she shot back, recovering nicely. She paused for a few moments before saying, “I love lending a helpful ear to others.” As we explored further, Sarah discovered she was energized by creating a safe space where others could open up, be heard and feel better. As we dug deeper, she realized that it would be really energizing for her to be an evangelist for creating a culture of psychological safety in her workplace. She started to explore how she could broaden her role in human resources. Until that time, Sarah hadn’t connected the dots of how she can have the “bartender experience” at work.
Like Sarah, many of us dream of quitting our day jobs in search of fulfillment. “What am I even doing here?” many of us ponder, depleted of energy at the end of a very long day. We postpone finding meaningful work until we are just a little bit more financially secure. Maybe we think work is for a paycheck, and we look for fulfillment elsewhere. This leaves many of us disengaged and costs organizations billions of dollars. Latest Gallup data on U.S. workplaces suggests that nearly 70% of us are not fully engaged at work and 16% are actively disengaged. Perhaps more importantly, our disengagement impacts the people we care about, as many of us drag our depleted selves home.
Beyond personal fulfillment, though, our workplaces need our full engagement, resilience and creativity to solve the toughest challenges of our time. The breakthrough for Sarah (and for each of us looking for fulfillment) came when she dug inside to know herself better. Here are three tools to help you dig deeper, too.
The first tool is your energy map. It helps you take stock of the tasks that energize you and those that deplete you. I use it with my executive coaching clients to help them determine where they should spend their time for optimal effectiveness and to stave off burnout (See below).
You can create this map or (download here) and fill this out for yourself. Look at activities based on whether they energize or deplete you and their impact on advancing your goals. The quadrant on the top right is where we should spend much of our time. Consider dumping any activities in the bottom left. I have found that mindfulness helps me to notice my energy throughout the day so try simple mindfulness practices here.
The second tool is your personal purpose statement. There are three steps to do this. First, list stakeholders important to you and ask them the unique value you create for them. This helps you learn how you best serve others. Second, discover the activities where you feel most energized. Third, find the overlap between how you serve others and what you find most energizing. Your purpose is simply the way in which you serve the world that truly inspires you. For example, my purpose statement is: I connect deeply with others to help them become transformational leaders who make the world better for all. This course has more detailed templates that may be useful to you. Look for opportunities to bring this purpose to life at work and in life.
The third tool is your dream-job definition. Here are three questions to ask yourself:
- What kind of work activities energize me (see the tool above)?
- What contribution do I make for others that inspires me?
- What strengths do I enjoy exercising?
Once you are clear on these answers, find a friend and brainstorm what sets of experiences you’d like to add to your work portfolio. Don’t focus exclusively on the next role in your career path, but rather the experiences or projects (or even volunteer activities) at work that are energizing where you can contribute with skill sets you enjoy exercising. When you volunteer for a project or take on a stretch assignment that gives you a sense of fulfillment, that positive energy will spill over into your day job. Others will notice your positive contributions. You can even choose to share this insight with your boss, mentors and sponsors inside your organization to align your projects closer to your best contributions.
More and more enlightened organizations are focusing on their own purpose and helping people inside those organizations connect with work that is meaningful for them. Brighthouse, a Boston Consulting Group company, helps organizations excavate their purpose. CEO Ashley Grice talks about how organizations can find purpose and then use it to make an impact. “Purpose has impact emotionally and it has impact financially,” she says. “The bar has gone up a lot in terms of what employees expect from employers in making a difference in the world.” In fact, institutional investors like Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, are pushing organizations to think long-term about their focus on purpose. As Grice says, the key in actualizing purpose is not just coming up with a great statement (e.g. BCG’s statement is “Unlocking potential to advance the world”), but actually coming up with a set of principles that act like guard rails and help employees bring purpose to life in every day decisions and behaviors. As leaders in organizations large and small, I see it as our responsibility to create workplaces where people can thrive and make their best contributions, so engage others in a purpose conversation.
Now, let’s turn back to the individual level. The poet Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The work is ours. The time is now. We all need to be fully engaged in our purpose so we can solve the issues that matter to us.
A version of this post first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.