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Unhappy? Perhaps it’s time to find your "why?"

Unhappy? Perhaps it's time to find your "why?"

The idea of finding your “why?” has been used by many thinkers, from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to the present-day author and speaker Simon Sinek. Sinek’s books “Start with why” and “Find your why” have done much to popularise ideas about the value of finding purpose, whether that’s for individuals or organisations and businesses.

Understanding your purpose, and being able to focus on it, is one of the most useful discoveries you can make about yourself. It’s an ongoing process, and many leading thinkers and coaches believe it gives you the best possible chance of finding fulfilment in work and life.

Your purpose is the intersection of your talent, skills, passions and values. All of these combine to define your “why?”

Work and purpose

Rather than being exclusively about your job, finding your “why?” is about working out what drives you in life, and where your work fits into that bigger picture. Indeed, if everyone’s purpose was defined or answered by their earning power, there would be no unfulfilled or unhappy high earners, and no happy lower wage earners.

But work is something we can’t ignore, and I do believe that for everyone there is a job, or a way of working, that inspires them. So it is possible for (almost) anyone to align work with purpose.

Regular readers of our blog will know that I am a firm believer in the need to understand what you want from a career. I’ve come to this conclusion after years of interviewing people, following candidates’ careers and trying to understand what makes people successful – by which I mean happy in their work and life.

I have written some questions below (there are many others you could ask yourself) that may help you to identify your key drivers. From here you can think about your career (and if you choose to, your life) in a way that allows you to seek greater fulfilment. 

In a work context, that might mean identifying that you need a change or, in a world where many people just have to pay the bills, it may simply mean identifying what drives you so you can approach your current job differently. It could mean reframing how you think about your career. It could mean asking your boss for a new challenge, taking on extra work or changing hours if possible. One thing it most definitely is not is a guaranteed ticket to the role of your dreams; that will always take vision, tenacity and hard work - but it’s a useful start on that process.

Questions to help you find your “why?”

  1. 1. What makes me feel alive, happy or inspired?
  2. 2. What am I good at? (What do I find easy that others find hard?)
  3. 3. Where do people consistently tell me that I add value at work (or outside it)?
  4. 4. What areas of work or life do I like to grab hold of, or tend to be asked for advice about?
  5. 5. Why do I do what I do? 
  6. 6. What does success feel like?
  7. 7. What will my legacy be?
  8. 8. What’s my “mission” in life?
  9. 9. What do I like about my job?
  10. 10. What don’t I like about it?
  11. 11. What makes me unhappy?
  12. 12. What makes me feel like a failure?
  13. 13. What is stopping me from doing something else?
  14. 14. Would I care a lot if I failed in my current role? If so, why? If not, why not?

Success is personal

You don’t have to have designed a world-famous bridge or invented a cure for a common ailment to be successful. Perhaps you are a hard worker, a good neighbour and loving spouse or parent whose humour and conscientious attitude are a source of pleasure and an inspiration for your peers at work. That sounds like a pretty successful person to me.

The most fulfilled people I know tend to understand what makes them happy. But they also use that information. Many have found a way to sublimate the process of engaging with their “why”; they are so self-attuned that that they do it automatically. But others find it useful to treat it as a project, with milestones and project lists.  Regardless of the approach each takes to their life and career, none of them are ever really finished. While you have life in your body it is never too late to keep searching for your purpose. It’s a vocation, not a task.

Don’t compare

There’s one more reason why I think finding your “why?” is a valid exercise. It is that your purpose is deeply personal. This means that the more you understand what drives you in life, the less likely you are to compare yourself to other people, which is a recipe for a whole lot of emotions - most of which are unhealthy.

Nobody has the same set of skills, characteristics, ambition, drive and opportunity. This is particularly true in careers. Furthermore, everyone has arrived at their current role via a different and unique route. People who really nail their careers are almost always the most authentic at work, because they love what they do and they understand why they do it.

A confession here: I have always wondered why some people are so different outside of work. I may just be lucky that I have never had to be, but I suspect it’s because many people are in the wrong job. You can still be you when you manage people, treat a patient or run a project.

In author Matthew Syed’s new book, “You are awesome,” he helps children to understand the growth mind set and combat limiting beliefs so they understand that they can, in theory, achieve almost anything. If we combine the idea of growth mind set with the act of interrogating what really drives us in life, then perhaps we could all be exceptional. Not necessarily in the way that Roger Federer or David Bowie or Mother Teresa are or were, but rather, the best version of themselves that they can be.

Imagine a world full of people like that. That sounds a lot like success to me.

We can help your find your “why?”! Contact the 1-1 Recruitment team now and we’ll do our very best to help you find the right job - which means helping you to identify what you’re really looking for!


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