1 Powerful Question to Uncover Your Career Purpose

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“What do I do with rest of my life?”

“How can I put my strengths and interests to best use to feel as though I’m living a purposeful life?”

“How can I have a positive impact?”

“Should I change my work? How can I be more content with my lot?”

I recently surveyed 457 people and asked them what the greatest threat to their resilience, mood, and performance was. When I asked them to nominate a related question, a number wrote ones similar to those above.

Employees who don’t have a sense of purpose are often disengaged and unproductive. They struggle to manage priorities and to balance all the competing needs in life.

People without a sense of purpose also seem to experience a higher level of stress in times of change and disruption.

Knowing our purpose can help us when:

  • We have setbacks and need to bounce back fast;
  • We are trying to choose between option A and option B;
  • We are feeling burnt out;
  • We want to live a more authentic life.

Viktor Frankl, author of the seminal book Man’s Search for Meaning, is probably the greatest authority on the power of purpose and meaning to help cope in very uncertain times. He was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps. He found that the one in 28 prisoners that didn’t perish somehow found a way to tap into meaning.

Helping people discover meaning from crisis became his lifelong work. He famously showed that people can also find meaning from hopeless situations such as being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

You don’t create your mission in life – you detect it” – Viktor Frankl

Frankl maintained that our purpose emerges by reflecting on our past experiences, our values, our passions, and our setbacks.

So how do we find our career purpose?

Having worked in recruitment for 15 years, the one question which I found to be the best indicator of our career purpose is this:

When you reflect on your career, what achievement are you most proud of?

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Why is this a powerful question?  The answer provides some valuable clues to our internal – or intrinsic motivators.

To gain further insight, answer these additional questions:

What was I doing during this highlight?

Who was I helping?

How did they benefit from my help?

Why did I choose this highlight over others?

What were the obstacles in achieving this? How did I overcome these?

Who did I work with to achieve this?

What strengths or skills did I use to achieve this?

How can I do more of this in my current role?

What’s my proof of the power of this 1 question?

In my workshops and presentations I frequently ask participants to break into pairs and ask each other the questions above. I immediately see the energy in the room lift. People are smiling, alive, and animated. Their eyes sparkle. It happens EVERY time.

Why not share these reflections with your team?

This year I had the privilege of working with Derick, the very successful CEO of a high growth company. He asked me to take his top 15 leaders through my 7 Rituals of the Resilient Leader workshop – and as part of the session we had them break into twos or threes and explore their proudest achievement.

At the conference dinner that night, Derick asked them to share their proudest moment with everyone. This discussion and banter led to extraordinary camaraderie, energy, and shared values in the room. At the end of the night, the caterer told Derick that it was a privilege to be present at that dinner. That is the power of people tapping into their purpose. It is infectious.

Of course it takes additional work to articulate your purpose succinctly, and to live it in a deliberate way, but answering this one question is a great start.

Related: How to lead a more meaningful life

Knowing your career purpose is a component of Ritual 7 of The 7 Rituals of the Resilient Leader: TRUE TO SELF: ask weekly if you like yourself, like what you are doing, and how you are doing it – reset


Sign up for our free 7 Rituals of the Resilient Leader poster and course to learn how to create rituals that build your resilience, mood, and performance.

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