Four tips for creating a career rooted in purpose

September 18, 2019

Why do you work? Why does anyone work? It’s mostly about making money, right?

Wrong. Or at least not any more.

It’s about purpose. From now forward, companies that want to attract and retain millennial talent will have to show that they are driven by more than the bottom line, says Al Gorriaran, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, lead faculty with the Master of Science in Human Resource Management online degree program at Capella University.

Sounds wonderful, right? Launch a career and work for an organization that aligns with your greater purpose in life and live happily ever after. But that’s easier said than done. Purpose can come at a price, says Gorriaran. That cost can be money, time, relationships, or personal safety, just to name a few. However, for those who are willing to make sacrifices and embark on an ongoing journey of self-discovery, purpose and career can dovetail beautifully. The trick is to be prepared and go into it with your eyes wide open. Gorriaran offers the following advice to do just that.

1. Find purpose in experience

For a lucky few, their life’s purpose has been clear to them for as long as they can remember. For the rest, it can take some serious soul searching and exploration. The truth is, finding purpose begins with broadening one’s awareness of the world and being inspired by causes and career paths that align with one’s personal values. Fortunately for those launching careers today, the Internet and social media provide access and visibility to a universe of ideas in a way that was unheard of in previous generations.

“Social media and the Internet have been an enormous catalyst for so many people to find and commit to a greater purpose in life,” Gorriaran says. “All of us today are offered an infinite panorama of life because of the Internet. We are exposed all day, every day, to every conceivable cause, issue, occupation, and social need you can imagine. Our worldview is expansive. So much so that it can be overwhelming, even polarizing at times.”

With all that infinite information just a finger swipe away, therein lies the Achilles heel of the online world. It’s almost too easy, too one-dimensional. In other words, it’s not real enough.

“You can’t decide on your career based on a YouTube video or a Facebook meme,” Gorriaran says. “You have to immerse yourself into it. You need to feel, hear, and touch what your future purpose will be like. Experiencing it deeply is so important.”

So how do you get that real-world taste of your potential purposeful career?

“Be willing to volunteer, to apprentice, to job shadow, or to learn a craft and truly experience the potential career path you are considering,” Gorriaran advises. “You need to know what you are getting into before deciding on a purpose-driven career. Having a tangible experience that foreshadows what you believe is your mission in life can crystalize your sense of purpose and leave you incredibly confident.”

2. Prepare to make sacrifices

Now for the downside. Finding purpose in your career is not all sunshine and rainbows. Even when you’ve found what you believe is your cause in life, reality can bite … and bite hard. 

“So many purpose-driven careers come at high emotional or personal costs,” Gorriaran says. “Think of firefighters or first responders. They are not getting rich, they often work odd hours, and they deal with some seriously traumatic situations. But the purpose they feel is immeasurable. When exploring a career choice, you need to weigh that reward with the sacrifices to be made and see where the scales end up. Only then should you make the leap.”

3. Recognize not everyone will share your passion

As passionate and committed as you may be to your newly found purpose in your career, it can be heartbreaking to learn that others – sometimes those closest to you – don’t share your enthusiasm. Sometimes, they can be vehemently opposed to it. You need to steel yourself for that.

“Not every quest for purpose works out the way you want it to, with everyone sharing your joy,” Gorriaran says. “Sometimes, such as for those who pursue a career with certain cause-related nonprofits or religious or political institutions, encountering opposition comes with the territory. It’s expected. What’s not expected is when your own parents or spouse or siblings don’t understand your career choice and express disappointment … or actively try to derail you. That’s much harder to deal with and sadly fairly common.”

“There is a risk in searching for purpose in that often it means going against the status quo or the conventional career trajectory,” Gorriaran adds. “Sometimes the ways we find our purpose in life can seem strange to our parents. Take a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who has a daughter who goes off to join a grassroots nonprofit startup. That can be really hard to understand for the parent. But if you’ve done your due diligence and you know in your heart of hearts that this is the career for you, then you need to stick to your plan. You need to have resilience. You need to have a thick skin.”

4. Never stop examining your purpose

People change, and so can their sense of purpose in life. As deeply committed as you may feel to a greater purpose today, it can and does evolve. Be cognizant of that. Be open to a natural and healthy realignment of passions. To do so requires continual openness to new experiences, new ideas, and new paths in life.

“A lot of dreams tend to be born when we are younger, but they don’t have to be our only dreams in life – or our last,” Gorriaran says. “The point is to never stop exposing yourself to new inspiration. Re-evaluating purpose should be a life-long exercise. As human beings, we are constantly growing and changing, and our sense of purpose can evolve right along with that. Dreams don’t have to stop when you are 30.”

Gorriaran notes that even the concept of retirement itself is now being redefined. It’s no longer a cliff-like experience where one day you’re working and the next you’re not. Many people are reinventing themselves in retirement by launching a new career or finding a part-time cause that they throw themselves into. Finding and embracing purpose never has to stop.

“Finding one’s purpose in life continues right up to retirement and beyond,” Gorriaran says. “People are more and more starting second or third careers after retirement, and often the inspiration comes from activating on a new-found sense of purpose. That feeling of rejuvenation never gets old.”

Explore a career that aligns with your personal sense of purpose with an online degree from Capella University.


Meet the expert

Al Gorriaran, DBA SHRM-SCP, SPHR

Dr. Gorriaran is a lead faculty member in the human resources department at Capella. He is a retired Army human resources officer and former HR officer in the Foreign Service with 27 years of work in human resources, workplace learning, and recruiting. He holds a DBA in HRM from Nova Southeastern University, an MBA from Webster University, an MPA from Troy University and an MISM from Keller Graduate School. Dr. Gorriaran has had work published in International Academy of Business and Public Administration Disciplines.

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