How to Find a Purposeful Career, From 5 Women Who’ve Done It

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Jessica Thiefels19
Jessica Thiefels, Jessica Thiefels Consulting

Grinding through long days while building a career you can be proud of is hard if you don’t feel that you’re living your purpose. Purpose fuels the long days, the stressful projects and the times when you question what you’re doing and why. If you’re struggling to find purpose in your career, take these five  tips from these women who are successfully doing it every day.

1. You can’t find purpose in your career if you don’t know what motivates you

This was the case for Amanda Stewart, Founding Partner & VP of Valeo Groupe, U.S., the parent company of EPOCH Clemson. She is now able to live out that purpose in her career. She said: “I found purpose in my career by first identifying what was most meaningful and motivating to me. I feel fortunate in the position I am in, because my purpose aligns with part of our company's mantra which is ‘helping others’.” 

The key, however, is finding ways to realistically live your purpose in your career. Stewart explained: “This doesn’t mean I am coordinating and planning large fundraiser for children in need, but rather trying to have a positive impact on each person I work with daily.” 

She’s using small acts of helping someone else — from a smile in the hallway to supporting and motivating a manager — to stay aligned with the purpose that drives her in her career. When you have this purpose alignment and find ways to live it out in your career, you’ll have greater staying power during challenging times. 

Stewart says that when she’s feeling stressed or overwhelmed, she takes a step back and remembers her purpose: “This gives me an opportunity to reflect on my recent wins which align with my purpose and then determine where I have opportunities to help more.”

2. To find purpose in your busy and growing career, look outside your job first, suggests CEO and Co-Founder of Virtual Vocations, Inc., Laura Spawn.

She explained: "My best advice for finding professional purpose is to be mindful what is most important to you personally, in terms of values and priorities, then find ways to incorporate those tenets into your day-to-day work and career.”

When you can identify what you want to achieve personally, you can find ways to make your work more purposeful as often as possible—even if your company isn’t saving the world or helping kids in need. For Spawn, part of her purpose is having a genuine interest in others' experiences and helping them in times of need. 

At work, “this translates to taking more time to be personable in emails, being transparent when I connect others not only as a CEO but also as an individual, and reminding myself of the reason why I founded my company — which was to help others find telecommute jobs so that they can obtain greater flexibility in life and work,” said Spawn. 

Use your personal values to understand your purpose in work, and weave that into everything you do. 

3. Find a career that allows you freedom to explore. 

Not everyone loves their job or the work they’re doing—but that doesn’t mean you can’t find purpose, says Ali Boone, entrepreneur, real estate investor and lifestyle designer. She explained: “One thing that helps in finding purpose in your career is realizing all the ways you can be connected to your purpose through your career. For instance, I run my own company and while I enjoy the things I sell, I don’t love them. They aren’t my passion. But my passion lies in the freedom that selling those things allows me to have.” 

If you’re not finding purpose in your career, consider how your work affords you opportunities to explore the things that do light you up when you’re outside the four walls of your office.

“While it’s great to find purpose directly through your career, sometimes if you aren’t able to find it there, you can find it in sneakier places. Once you find those places, you can truly connect to your purpose via your career,” said Boone. 

4. Take your time. 

“Purpose lies at that wonderful intersection between your talents and your values,” said Karen Southall Watts, coach, author and speaker. This is why you may not know what your purpose is yet — it takes time to uncover it. 

As Southall Watts said: “Most of the time we don't just find purpose in our work. We have to uncover it, work for it and create it. Even when you're lucky enough to work for an organization that's driven by a mission you believe in, you still need to find your individual, special contribution.” 

This is how Southall Watts found her career purpose. In working with educational and community organizations, she saw her value was in seeing people's potential and encouraging them. In her career, regardless of the job, this is where she places her focus. 

She explained: “I concentrate there and support colleagues as they do the other tasks that eventually equal a whole experience for students or clients.” 

Southall Watts suggested that finding this purpose is directly linked to self-awareness. Know what you do well, and where you can provide value. Then, ask yourself: How can I bring this into my career?

5. Consider what you want to be known for. 

While it may sound morbid, a trip to the graveyard may be what you need to find purpose in your career, according to Donna Miller, Co-Founder and CEO of Purse Power, Inc. She explains: “As an executive coach, I used to ask my clients to go to a graveyard, think about the end of their life and then write down (as if their life was over) what they wanted it to have been about.”

This exercise brought up something different for all of Miller’s clients. Some found their purpose was family. For others, it was making a difference or leaving a legacy. The value of this exercise, she explained, is simple: “Once you figure out why you are on this earth, priorities become crystal clear and you can plan backward from there.”

If  you don’t want to look back on your life with regret, finding your purpose is critical. This is a great way to put yourself in a place to truly ponder those life-altering questions. 

“At the end of their days, people generally don't regret what the DID do, they regret most what they DIDN'T do. I am living my dream and want to encourage others to do the same," Miller said.