The Age of Purpose

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We are living in a time when careers aren't just work—they are an opportunity for self-expression.

We want more from our jobs than a steady paycheck and stability; we're looking for meaning, an opportunity to make a difference.

This might sound like the type of statement that would make the higher ups start rolling their eyes and lament about those darn high-maintenance millennials. But I believe that it's not just a millennial trait. Our larger American work culture is changing, and the age of purpose is a part of that shift.

Positive psychology studies suggest that employees who feel that they express their sense of purpose through their work are more highly engaged and productive. This leads employees to feel more invested, healthier, and fulfilled through their work. On an organizational level, all of this adds up to higher employee retention and organizations that thrive. And on an individual level, it means more passionate people sharing their unique gifts to improve our world.

I find this all very exciting because I'm a complete nerd for all things purpose and meaning—helping others develop their sense of purpose lies at the heart of my own mission (kind of meta). But I also know that it presents us with some challenges.

As individuals, the age of purpose puts more pressure than ever on us to know what we find most meaningful—to be familiar with the direction in which our arrow points. 

Unfortunately, this isn't something we're taught or encouraged to explore in school. Instead, we're sent out into the world on our own to look for it. People talk about "finding your calling" like it's an answer you'll come across outside of yourself if only you go looking in the right places—if you read the right book or go to the right networking event or embed yourself within the right school or organization. 

But your purpose is not something you'll find outside of yourself—it lives inside of you. It's something to be uncovered, discovered, or extracted, not found. And it's a matter of accessing the data within you, drawing it out so that you can work with it, make meaning from it, and strategically act on it. It's a reflective process that takes time and a willingness to get to know yourself on a deeper level. And it's well worth it.

For leaders of organizations, the age of purpose asks you to take the time to understand what your employees find meaningful, and create a company culture that allows them to express that sense of purpose.

That could look like getting to know your employees on a more personal level, giving them opportunities for professional development and reflection to get to know themselves better, opening the door for an employee to take on a project outside the bounds of their job description, or inviting them to bring skills from a side gig or outside part of their life into the workplace. 

The age of purpose also means that there needs to be a strong sense of purpose overall at the organization. Not to make a profit—that's a result. A focused and compelling "why" at the larger organizational level has to be there. It's leadership's role to know that mission, inspire the whole organization to point their arrows in that direction, and create opportunities for individuals to contribute to that greater mission in ways that are meaningful to them.