For most of us, purpose and cause in our careers take a backseat to obligations and responsibilities. We lose our personal-professional identities in pursuit of paychecks and the trappings of success.
Over time, we begin to define ourselves as our jobs and titles, and it’s only in a moment of radical setback, severe stress, or uncontrollable change where the mirage of who we think we are dissolves.
And then what?
Reinventing a career seems overwhelming, impractical, and implausible for many, so they labor on, marking time and retiring long before they quit working. For some, this is a self-imposed prison sentence of a decade or two.
I hope you don’t make that decision. Particularly when the option to rethink and reinvent is there. It’s not easy, but it’s there.
And it’s much about regaining (or creating) clarity for your purpose and cause.
Purpose is about your why. It’s what drives you at a core level. Purpose is fixed.
Cause is how you manifest purpose. It’s what you do to fulfill your purpose. Cause is not fixed. There are always a variety of different ways to fulfill your purpose.
Approaches in Career Reinvention
Career reinvention is a fundamental rethinking of how we apply the best of ourselves in pursuit of something critically important to us. How and where we do this is unique to every individual.
For some, it’s a wholesale vocation shift. From executive-to-entrepreneur or manager-to-owner or supervisor-to-teacher.
For others, it’s reframing a role inside a healthy organization. No one said you have to leave to reinvent, yet this work requires the right environment, the right culture, and some serious courage.
For many, there’s a spiritual or existential drive propelling them through this process.
There’s the executive who found cause and purpose through mentoring. He built the firm’s mentoring program and transformed the organization (and himself) in the process.
Or, the data warehouse expert who is really an expert in bringing cognitively diverse teams together to solve complex problems around data.
And the consultant who gave up on the pursuit of empty billable hours and started a practice dedicated to helping women entering the workforce learn to compete and win.
Or the corporate executive who pivoted to helping people achieve things they never imagined in their careers.
Or the CEO who retired on his schedule, not theirs, and started speaking and writing about values-based leadership because he wanted to change the world.
In all cases, clarifying purpose and cause and blending it with wisdom gained through experience is core to success.
Finding Purpose and Cause
In my work with a wide range of experienced (late mid-career onward) professionals dedicated to reinventing themselves in their careers, purpose and cause are almost never clear at the start of the process. There are hints and clues, but few people show up on my virtual coaching doorstep with, “This is it! Now how do I get there?”
Sadly, I do think many of us understood at a younger age what we were intended to do. Purpose, in particular, is often buried beneath layers of life’s challenges, experiences, and distractions and needs to be recovered and explored through the eyes of experience.
Most (myself included during my process) work through a series of stage gates that I’ve defined as my REINVENT™ process: determination, self-discovery, exploration, experimentation, preparation (conditioning) and launch. It’s during self-discovery and our work exploring superpowers, ourselves at our best, and our backstories, where the first meaningful clues emerge. As we gain a foothold on purpose and cause, we work together to uncover the individual’s clear definition of purpose and cause.
While it may sound like immersion in navel-gazing, the process is not dissimilar from an organization working to refine and clarify around mission, vision, and strategy. The absence of clarity for those factors invites the undisciplined pursuit of more to the party, and this is a formula for flail and fail.
For the individual, the time spent in “slow-down” mode exploring and refining purpose and cause pays dividends in focusing later-stage efforts and minimizes flail.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
The energizing power of clarity for purpose and cause is palpable. This gives meaning to the pursuit of career reinvention and narrows the universe of options down to a finite number of paths. And because no one approaches me taking a vow of poverty, the filters of purpose and cause allow us to search for the sweet spot where ability, passion, and marketability converge.
If you are seeking release from career prison, don’t jailbreak until you’ve thought through and clarified purpose and cause. Then run hard!