Right in Your Own Backyard

by Andrea Chilcote

It’s my belief that we are all here on this earth to use our gifts in some purposeful way; I think a lot of other people believe that too.Many of my clients seem to be seeking purposefulness, either with clear intentionality or in a haphazard, unsettled sort of way. In the past weeks, I’ve helped people from age 19 to 59 consider potential and desired life paths, including identifying jobs that both fulfill them and meet their overall needs.

It’s a fact that people who are in careers that allow them to use and build upon their unique talents are more productive and the organization more successful.* And, when we look objectively at our lives overall, our potential for purpose and contribution is driven by far more than our formal work.

So I’ve been asking myself (throughout my life but especially lately), “Why are so many people unfulfilled?” As if in answer, I was reminded of a common mind-trap. It’s the condition of longing for what we say we want, in the midst of its apparent absence, while all along it’s right there under our noses, present in our lives.

The first lesson came from a personal insight I had during my morning hike in the desert. I’m no different than my clients – or you  – I have a sometimes insatiable need to be doing work that “matters” in some big way. Rationally, I know my work matters each and every day. But I often rate and rank it in my mind, measuring and comparing size and scope.

Today as I reflected on the work of this past week, I finally got it. The things I do that feel most purposeful to me are often the small or ancillary things that help people get through their day (or life) a little more easily. I do hundreds of those things in any given week, and they matter.

Later that day I got validation of this insight during a call with a client. In the past year she’s been through an exhausting career move, one she agreed to for many good reasons yet not without distress over the decision. Among the many concerns was “purpose.” Would she be able to contribute in this new role and impact peoples’ lives to the extent she desired?

On our call she told me a story that confirmed (to her) she had made the right choice. She told me of an employee whose life she touched with a simple act of kindness. It turned out that this employee died suddenly after that event, though not before he had shared that kindness with many others. It turns out my client “influenced” the actions of countless people, though she had not even been aware of it.

Now, she is finally satisfied that she made the right choice, the right move. Her action was not a requirement of her role, not contained in her official job description – but it was clearly an expression of her purpose as a leader in that organization.

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. – Dorothy, The Wizard of OZ

What if your “purpose” was playing out each day, right in your own backyard? You’ve always had the power, my dear. You’ve had it all along. – Glinda, the good witch

*In what’s become a classic measure of employee engagement in the workplace, Gallup’s surveys asks employees to indicate whether: “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”

In his powerful book Drive, Daniel Pink asserts that “purpose” is one of three core elements at the heart of human motivation, and that no “carrots or sticks, however appealing or frightening can hold a candle to these core elements.