At what point did you first consider your purpose in relation to your career?
I vividly recall my first experience with considering my purpose. I had just started working in leadership development at the renowned Banff Centre. To help me understand their unique approach to programs, I was enrolled in a flagship program with zero understanding of what it would entail. Well, what it entailed was a five-day deep dive into my core self, and using that knowledge to shape a vision or purpose for my future. That was about 4.75 days longer than I’d ever spent thinking about me or my future.
Needless to say, I struggled in the program. A lot. I was entirely baffled by the notion of purpose. How could defining a purpose make a substantive difference in my life? Did one even need a purpose? Couldn’t we just go to work, go home, and call it a day? I didn’t want to look that closely at myself nor my purpose and so, predictably, I emerged from the program barely scratching the surface of either topic. It would take me more than another 10 years to do the real work—work which I am still doing—to understand myself and my purpose, and what they mean for my career goals.
What does this have to do with career development within organizations? Through my own experience of gaining a better understanding of myself and my purpose, I've come to believe that both are key to truly impactful career development. As a result, I spent most of my recent career on my little soapbox, tirelessly advocating for organizations to take career development seriously. I wanted to see organizations invest in helping employees deeply understand themselves and their purpose. Otherwise I feared we would continue to have the same surface-level, title-focused career development conversations, or churn out the same tired tools and programs, all of which leave employees and managers frustrated. I tried so many different ways of shifting organizational mindsets around development, and yet I failed to see any discernible change. In fact, career development, or the lack thereof, continued to be one of top employee complaints. In my mind, organizations were at fault.
I have now completely changed my tune.
I believe we are asking far too much of organizations if we try to hold them responsible for ensuring that employees understand themselves and their purpose. We already expect our managers to be everything: leaders, problem-solvers, mentors, performance coaches and career coaches. But managers are just people like the rest of us, and sometimes they aren’t any clearer in career matters than their team members. We expect our organizations to provide us with ‘development opportunities’, but we often aren’t clear on what would actually constitute a development opportunity because we haven’t figured out what actually matters to us in our career. We expect employees to own their development, to come armed with a crystal clear vision for their career future, but the reality is that we get clear on who we are and our purpose only when we are ready. It’s the perfect storm of mismatched expectations.
Here’s the thing: nothing and I mean nothing is a substitute for every individual doing the deep work to figure out what they actually want in their career. Could organizations be doing more to support this process? Sure. But is it wise to rely on organizations to shepherd a process this deep and intensely personal? I don't believe it is. You might disagree with me on this (and that’s okay). Regardless of our respective opinions on the matter, the reality is that few (if any) organizations today are set up to be guides for our spiritual awareness and growth, and so career development is likely to be limited in its effectiveness.
Each of us has something we are uniquely positioned to contribute to the world around us, something that we love to do so much that we will work harder for it than we ever thought possible. This thing is our purpose, and we owe it to ourselves to understand what that is. Once we're clearer on our purpose, career development is much easier because we've established a navigational system of sorts. Of course, this requires courage and curiosity to look deeply inward, to gain a better understanding of our core self, and then to consider what that means in the context of our career. Until we’ve done that work, any organizational effort to help us define carer development goals are likely to have lukewarm results at best.
This leaves us with a pretty important question: do you really want to sit around and wait for things to change in your organization before examining your purpose for yourself? If you are frustrated by a perceived lack of career development in your organization, you might just be expecting too much from it. My best suggestion is to start by asking yourself some tough questions: do you know who you are and have you defined your purpose? Once you can answer those questions and clearly articulate what career development means for you, chances are your organization will be in a much better position to support you.
*p.s. If you want to explore your purpose, I'm all ears. Reach out to me directly to find out more about how I can work with you to support your career goals.