Do you ever feel like something is missing in your life but you can’t put your finger on it?
For most of my career, I felt disconnected in one way or another from what I was doing.
I had excellent roles and career opportunities, worked with great leaders and committed myself to efforts that helped many people. There was no doubt in my mind, I was engaged in rewarding work. But regardless of how successful I was, I still felt there was something missing.
Being passionate has never been my problem.
When assigned to a project or engagement, I would dive head first into it. I would go after my goal with determination and drive, only to finish with a feeling of apathy or indifference — saying to myself “ok, what’s next.”
No matter how much recognition and respect, money, promotions or accolades I received, once the engagement was over, the feeling of internal satisfaction and contentment eluded me.
I lacked internal purpose and direction.
Over the years, I’ve spent an enormous amount of time, energy and money searching for “the” book, blog, magazine or course on leadership, self development and career directions that would give me the answer to the questions I was searching for — how can I gain greater satisfaction and what should I be doing?
I read books on following your passion, becoming more creative, how to be an effective leader, how to achieve greater satisfaction in your day, how to connect with your true self and on and on. I followed cutting edge research on brain science, psychology, motivation and behavior. I took just about every type of career assessment out there — personality, strengths, skills, interests and aptitudes, got those down!
But even with all this knowledge, I was coming up short. This lack of internal direction was making me feel like there was something was wrong with me!
And not so surprisingly, I’m not alone. People spend BILLIONS of dollars on career and self development products every year!
So why does internal purpose and direction remain elusive for so many people?
The answer is in the question. Your internal purpose or your “WHY” — what you stand for, ultimately your reason for being — is internally directed. Yet, many of us consistently look outside ourselves for the answer. We secretly want someone to take us under their wing, validate what we’re doing, tell us we’re making the right decisions.
The first major reason is really not our fault, we’re socialized to look externally.
From the way we are raised and educated to the way we are incentivized in the companies we work for, most people focus on external validation and recognition. We want rewards and praise yet if we don’t understand how our work is related to what internally drives us, we loose motivation and direction. For more on this topic, Dan Pink, author of Drive, does a fantastic job describing the issues with working for incentives vs. purpose in this TED talk.
The second major reason internal purpose baffles us is due to the way the brain processes feelings.
We have difficulty pinpointing our “WHY” because the part of the brain that processes emotion doesn’t control language. We have an intuitive sense of what our “WHY” feels like but we cannot easily express it because the limbic system doesn’t simply translate those feelings into words. For more on this topic, watch Simon Sinek’s incredibly moving TED talk as he elaborates on this and much more on his work with the “WHY.”
The third major reason it’s elusive is that it’s hard to see what’s right in front of your face.
To illustrate, try a little experiment. Raise your hand about a foot away from your face and take in as many details about it as you can, the palm lines, texture, color, even how it feels. Now, move your hand towards your face so it’s almost touching. Blinding, almost overwhelming, hun?
Same thing goes for your purpose. When you are so close to it, you can’t see it.
For me, it took introspection over time facilitated by skilled coaches. The answers truly lie within but because we’re so close to it, we just need a little help teasing it out. It is possible to do it yourself but in my experience, it most cases it takes an objective witness, a good coach or an intuitive friend/colleague to see the patterns of your “WHY” emerge. When you nail it, you realize it’s been with you since the very beginning.
In the end, rest assured there’s nothing wrong with you! The missing link to deep satisfaction is knowing and living your “WHY.” You just might need a little help to find your way to it!
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