the good and real career

In the wake of my confession about my struggle with my relationship perfectionism, my gut tells me that there may be more people who struggle with this type of perfectionism in their career and purpose categories.

So today, I’d like to get a little feisty and share what I really think about career and purpose over-idealism.*

To be honest, more and more I notice comments, worries, and clouds of anxiety surrounding people and their “career” or “purpose.” Especially among Gen Y and Gen Z.

I think the idea we were all taught about “making a difference” in our childhoods has cast this shadow of expectation that we should all be rescuing the planet, curing cancer, and making hundreds of thousands of dollars while working a 9 to 5 job – from a sail boat in our pajamas.

And the truth is that all of those things are possible, and will happen for some people.

But the fact is that most people will not be doing those things. And that’s a good thing.

The world would not be quite as nice if we didn’t have people to do our taxes, send us Netflix, cut our hair, or cook our organic grass fed burgers on a pretzel bun.**

Yet it seems so many people are sitting in their cubicles stressing out over the utter “meaninglessness” of their jobs.

And I honestly want to say that I think that those people should deeply consider whether their current situation actually does have the potential to become part of their purpose if they dug in, changed their perception, and had a more proactive outlook.

I love you, so please let me explain.

Purpose is not a string of fuzzy warm feelings that naturally burst forth at every moment. The purpose equation explains that it doesn’t really matter what the heck you are doing. As long as you are using whatever you are doing to better the day of someone else, then that is purpose in action.

So even if the job itself isn’t pulling samples for Vogue, saving orphans, or raking in fat checks, it can still be done with excellence, problem solving (aka creativity), and love.

Almost all jobs involve working and interacting with peers or customers. Those interactions are where you have the unlimited potential to step it up and become someone that really does make other people more joyful during the workday.

Take my label guy, Todd, for example. I have only spoken on the phone with Todd a handful of times over the past two years. But I always look forward to calling him for more labels. He’s friendly, happy, prompt, honest, and just plain fun to work with. Of the dozens of suppliers I have to pay, I actually look forward to giving him money.

He’s a label maker with a sh*t load of purpose.

Further, any transaction ultimately fills a need. So there can be a bigger goal to look towards for inspiration or meaning.

On the other hand, if that is simply impossible to find or the environment is unhealthy, there is always the option of leaving the place and going in a new direction.

Either way, we are not helpless beings in search of meaning and purpose. We are powerful. So powerful, we have the capability to transform our current moment into purpose if we put our minds to it.

We just gotta lose the cooky sense that we need to be doing something that we find fulfilling.

Fulfilling is in this very moment if we choose to honor it completely.


* Yep, I just made that term up, but I think it fits.

** And a million other careers. But you get my point.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. I love “has cast this shadow of expectation that we should all be rescuing the planet, curing cancer, and making hundreds of thousands of dollars while working a 9 to 5 job – from a sail boat in our pajamas.”

    I think that is so true. Sometimes I feel bad that I really am quite happy at my 7-4 job. I’m doing something that I enjoy and it fits well with the rest of my life. I would love to work on sail boat, though. 🙂

  2. Jess – another wonderfully-articulated and thoughtful post. I agree that somehow our generation has acquired this over-idealism of our careers. And while I don’t think my current cubicle job has the ability become part of my purpose, I am okay with that right now. I am able to work on my purpose in my free time and I am not left feeling that “helpless” feeling you mentioned above. On weekends, I take my talent (eye for style) and I help people with their wardrobes, so even though it’s not full-time, I am incorporating my purpose into a percentage of my life. For me, that balance is working well because I am still able to live the lifestyle that I prefer with the safety net and income of my current job, but still getting fulfillment in my life on the side.

  3. Becca

    for this post. I printed it out and its in my desk drawer, ready to be pulled out when I need an extra boost of inspiration/motivation.

  4. Jane

    Hi Jess – I’ve never left a comment here before, but I read your blog everyday…one of your faithful readers from Canada. Thank you, thank you for what your wrote in “the good and real career” this morning. I’m currently working in a “temporary” job as an office assistant in a naturopathic clinic, having had to quit my career as a registered massage therapist after I had a heart attack last year at the age of 37. Life is truly what happens while we’re busy making other plans, and I’m so grateful you’ve woken me up to this idea of “purpose over-idealism.” I’ll be reflecting on this one for a while. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  5. Carisa

    I love this post Jess!! I’m struggling with something similar right now, but need to realize I am at this point in my life (career, relationship, health, etc.) for a reason. I left a job a few years ago, because it was not right for me. It was a hostile environment and I felt unappreciated. I had no job to go to next, but knew I needed to do what was best for me at the time. I’m in a new job now, where I feel comfortable and very appreciated. I went back to your post “THINK ABOUT IT: job, career, or calling?” and definitely see how this is such a struggle for so many people. I believe part of my calling is to help people like the woman you mentioned in Women, Food, and God, figure out why they’re struggling with food. There are always underlying reasons of why we act the way we do, in all aspects of our lives. And I loved this quote from your post last year:

    do what we can,
    right where were are,
    with as much purpose and service as possible

    P.S.–Love your mention of an organic grass-fed burger on a pretzel bun!! 🙂 Yum!!

  6. CB

    Yes yes yes! This is why there are no small jobs, and no matter what job we are presently doing, we have the power to make a positive difference.

  7. karlita

    “We are so powerful, we have the capability to transform our current moment into purpose if we put our minds to it”.
    Ok I can do that but is it how is supposed to be? kind of faking that what you are doing right now is your purpose even though you think there must be something more fulfilling – but haven’t found it yet-?
    Sometimes I hear from people “I am just doing what I was meant to!, or what I have always loved finally!, or I am so sure this was God’s plan for me” in those cases… are they just programming themselves to believe that what they are doing is their purpose and the best thing in the world?… did it happen to you like that?
    Because from you and from others, it sounds so natural, so surprising to themselves… it doesn’t sound like some sort of “I want to believe this is my purpose because I chose it to fulfill me even if it didn’t at the beginning” I’m confused since the equation with this “believing that what you are doing is your purpose”

  8. Jess

    Karlita, thanks for your questions! I am actually going to share what you are wondering about soon. It all comes down to a difference between career, purpose, and vocation.


  9. i have had last week’s post open on my browser at home just waiting for me to comment for several days now. after reading today’s post, i think it will actually fit in better here.

    these purpose posts have been very thought-provoking, and i thank you for that (as always!). when i first read the purpose equation, i had myself a genuine, bonafide ah-ha moment, which went something like this, “wait a minute, every day that i get something done for a client, get something filed, win a motion, settle a case, i have helped that person (often a small to mid-size business owner) with the talents and skills i possess. i AM fulfilling some of my purpose in a career that i generally don’t see that way.” the next day, you used big 3 accountant as one of your examples and i went “yes, exactly!”

    i absolutely have days where i sit in my office and believe myself purpose-less, but that’s not really true and i think we’re not giving ourselves enough credit when we immediately think “i’m not an entrepreneur; i’m not changing the world; i’m not doing x,y, and z,” and thus i am not fulfilling a purpose.

    i’ve been feeling better about my work since that moment. it doesn’t mean this is it, forever, or that this is my one and only purpose (and that’s not even true now: like many others, i spend my free time finding those more personal purposes that don’t come from a career), but it makes the right now a lot more meaningful.

    so thanks 😉

  10. Amy

    Jess, this post is awesome and perfectly demonstrates why you’re amazing! It’s the little things we do in life and how we treat the people we meet along the way that truly matter. And it’s always best to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t do. You articulate this perfectly. We always have the ability to make someone else’s day a little better. Thanks for making my day better with this post!

  11. Jess

    I could have used this post when I was making the decision to resign my job and take a new one. Thankfully, I dug deeper, realized I truly was unhappy and that no amount of positive thinking was going to help, and took a leap in a completely different direction. Today marks the Friday of my first week at my new job, and so far I feel far lighter, far happier, and far more engaged. Even though I’m not helping Palestinian rights in the Middle East or helping to build democratic regimes—life changing, “important” work I thought I’d be doing after college—I feel empowered, creative, and involved in my community.

    I have a lot of thinking to do about these subjects, but I loved this post. You wrote it so well, and so honestly.

    Good luck with your first BWI weekend!

  12. Sarah

    I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up (and still don’t) and have been stumped when it comes to figuring out what my purpose is. Your post today was my Aha! moment. Thank you for helping me reframe my perception of my work and realize that I am fulfilling my purpose by helping others even if i’m not saving the world.

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