My father was a country boy from Mississippi. In his early twenties, when my grandfather became ill, being the eldest, he was held responsible for running the family farm which helped feed his nine brothers and sisters. I’m sure this expanded his perspective about what was possible.
He wanted more. “More” in the fifties was going west. He ended up in Los Angeles where he was able to land an assembly-line worker job at General Motors. Through that job, dad was able to accomplish much-he married, was able to sustain four children while my mom was a stay-at-home mother, and acquired income property and a nice nest egg.
After thirty years, he was able to retire with a handsome pension that took care of both himself and mom. He was a loyal worker and GM was loyal to him. Those were the good old days.
Why Live Your Purpose?
Our economy has shifted. Good pensions are passé, lay-offs and demotion punctuate the economic landscape and many companies have tanked. Displaced workers are asking themselves, “How do I redefine myself and get back into the workforce?” Some have stopped trying.
For those who remain employed, after decades in their industries, the pressures of doing more for less pay and internal dissatisfaction with job duties has taken its toll.
Is this you?
Flickers of your dreams sporadically bob up into consciousness as you robotically show up and do your nine to five job each day. Knowing your passions, but unable to live them in your life just adds frustration to the daily grind.
Include office politics, strained employee relationships and the lack of resources to do your job effectively, and the friction inevitably creates a dull angst, fatigue, or futility which in turns douses productivity and morale.
You ask ourselves throughout your career, “Is this all there is to life? How much more boring can this get? How much longer can I stay silent to some of these egregious things happening at this job?”
The result? Engagement in work is at an all-time low.
The majority of American employees are not dedicated to their company, co-workers or mission of the organization.
There are quite a few legitimate reasons why workers are disengaged. Illness, injuries, heavy workloads and other stressors such as, eldercare and childcare can explain the growing phenomenon. However, absenteeism also results from worker disengagement. Persevering, commitment to excellence and focus is difficult to maintain when disinterest and the underutilization of workers’ strengths mark the workplace.
When workers mindlessly do tasks of the job or feel overwhelmed by a sense of incompetence because they’re operating in a weak zone, you find employees unenthusiastically doing just enough to retain the position, rather than pursuing excellence, innovation and persistence.
Sadly, employee absenteeism cost US business owners billions of dollars. Replacement workers, administrative cost to process absences and wages paid to absent workers take its toll. Indirect consequences to worker absenteeism include, extensions on projects, poorer quality goods and services and frustration between co-workers because of the extra work load caused by absences.
We all suffer when employees are uncommitted to work.
Recently, my smartphone died on three different occasions. I couldn’t figure out the cause. I just knew my phone was critical. So, I went to the carrier because they were the “experts, ” and could identify and fix the problem.
Driving to the closet store, between business appointments, I got there and waited ten minutes for a sales representative. I described the problem. I showed him my charger. He plugged into his station. As I awkwardly sat on the stool, perusing the oversized posters which advertised their latest packages, and gazing at the other uncomfortable customers on their stools, the rep verified it would not charge.
The young sales associate insisted it was a defective phone. He excused himself to talk to his manager. Luckily, securing a new phone was covered under my contract, which meant I did not have to pay for it, and they immediately put in an order. Problem solved.
Or was it?
Days later, I received my new cell phone. Eagerly, I tore opened the tan box, and prepared to charge it. Again the phone would not charge, no matter what wall socket I plugged it into, it instantly turned on then off. Racking my hair with my fingers in frustration, I took it to a different store.
Surely I thought they’ll handle this and I can move on with life.
I will spare you the details, just know the above scenario repeated itself a couple of times.
On my fourth and final trip to the store, my saucer-shaped eyes and my forcefully modulated voice communicated my desperation. I handed her the black charger I used. The female sales associate excused herself and waltzed back with a white charger in her hand and said, “Your problem is a common one. You are using a generic charger with this phone. In time, they are no longer effective at charging your phone model. You need the brand charger. For your trouble, I’ll just give it to you. ” The charger worked. Problem solved.
Three weeks were spent trying to remedy this issue. Could it be that these were inexperienced employees or were they uncommitted ones? It’s difficult to pinpoint. But mangers were consulted. You’d think they’d know I had a charger issue. You’ve got to wonder how committed were these employees in making the full impact they’ve could have made by helping a loyal customer a little sooner.
On the other hand, research finds workers who incorporate their strengths in executing tasks are far more energized and positive. Concentration deepens as a worker delves into interesting tasks. This can result in cutting edge ideas, new approaches to long standing problems, and better work quality. Additionally, natural ability and interests bolsters a feeling of confidence and accomplishment. The company benefits from employees who operate in their strength zone.
This begs the larger question, How do you reinvigorate the workplace to encourage cutting edge creativity, passion, loyalty, problems solving skills and collaboration to bear on projects and programs within you organization?
If you’re lost in boredom and unfulfilled on the job, how can you bring more meaning to your position? Working with a mentor who can help you see ways in which you can utilize your natural abilities at the workplace is one avenue to explore, or you can join a leadership mastermind group with seasoned leaders who can support and give you feedback as you reinvent yourself. Or you can read this book which can help you create a viable plan, map out signposts, strategies and give insight to support you as you commit more deeply to living your purpose.
Just as much as we need the fruit from your extraordinary talent, you need to find the boldness to embrace the struggle to bring your destiny into manifestation whereupon you will experience deep fulfillment and aliveness.
When workers discover and utilize their strengths in the workplace to whatever degree, morale and a sense of meaning bloom. Employees produce more in excellence because they are engaged and buy-in to the contribution they can make to the mission of the company. This in turn strengthens the company. So, identifying and setting goals to grow your core talents is a stepping stone towards fulfilling your ultimate destiny.
Stimulation, fun and meaning in the workplace makes going to work enjoyable. So find ways to integrate your passion at work. Regularly find what I call Passion Projects to get involved with. To get started, evaluate your reactions to events on the job. What do you feel strongly about? What makes you angry? Which top five values do you espouse the most? What keeps you up at night? What interest can you integrate more into the job? Where do you see your attention landing? Pick your projects carefully.
In my last two years as a teacher, I joined a new school teaching fourth grade. On the first day, predictably, the principal gave me a tour of the school, and it ended at the front door of my new classroom. As the principal dangled the keys to identify the right one, I eagerly anticipated what it would look like. As he swung the door open, however, I was shocked as I walked around. Deeply ingrained, dark stains layered the once gold carpet. I envisioned hundreds of students’ feet, food stains and “accidents” defining what I was looking at. Long gray strips of duck-tape covered four, four to five feet gaping rips, and there was a strong, unidentifiable odor.
“Mr. B”, I blurted, ” this is a health hazard. Is it possible to get new carpet?”
“This is the best I can do Roz,” he said in frustration. “This carpet is fourteen years old. I know it’s not acceptable, but I’ve been asking for carpet for three years and the district has not honored my request. ” He scurried to his office. “
At first, I thought: You know you’re new to the school so let it go Roz. So make the best of it.
So I tried to ignore the issue.
For the next two weeks, I opened all the windows as I taught, but students informed me how the room reeked of urine. At the end of each day, I was either sneezing continuously, suffering with a tight chest, battling laryngitis or nursing a throbbing headache.
These symptoms eased a couple of hours after I left the worksite.
My anger grew.
After all, I realized the school was out of compliance by offering this room to the students. It was a health hazard. Additionally, I’m sensitive to the educational needs of inner city students and felt moved to dig deep, find courage and get new carpet.
I was stepping into the unknown, but I knew I had to do this on behalf of my students.
As I thought about it, I realized how powerful a few parents could be in championing this cause. The school district may not listen to one teacher, I thought, but they always respond to disgruntled parents. So, I tracked down the president of the Parent Teachers Association.
I asked Mrs. Vasquez to meet me in my room one morning.
She brought the Vice President of the PTA, Mrs. Vega with her, and gingerly knocked on the door of room thirty, just minutes before the students had to line up to be brought to class.
“Thank you for coming,” I said. I’ll have to pick up the students in a minute. “I have one question for you.”
As parents, would allow your children to be a student in this class?”
Both looked alarmed, taken aback by my blunt question, as they more closely examined the room.
“It’s OK.” I said softly. “I just want an honest answer.”
Then the president sighed, looked at the VP and uttered, “Mrs. Henderson. No. This room is filthy. The carpet is horrible. The kids deserve better.”
“I absolutely feel the same way. Can you help me get new carpet for the room?”
I then learned the president was acquainted with the Chief Financial Officer of the district.
Within a few minutes we constructed a plan. We’d immediately started an email campaign for a month to see if the CFO would honor our carpet request.
Within two months, not only my room, but three other classrooms in the school were carpeted!
We were elated. The PTA parents and I smiled widely as the students entered the class after the carpet’s installation. (We did not let them in on the secret) The wide eyes, the jumping with excitement and the incessant chatter among the students reminded me of a Christmas morning opening gifts. For three years the principal said his request for carpet was denied, but we got it done in three months! A deep sense of accomplishment and fulfillment reenergized me. The take away is this—-your values fuel your passions which can transform your surroundings.
In Forbes Magazine, I read an account about a twenty-two-year-old university student, Barclay Okari, who attended the University of Nairobi. To round out his resume, he decided to teach at the local all girls high school. He observed over time that a large number of students were regularly absent once a month. Upon further investigation he learned that they were absent during their monthly cycle. Most of the young ladies were so poor that they were unable to purchase sanitary pads so elected to stay home.
With grit and determination, Barclay asked to borrow fifteen hundred dollars from his parent, and his researched and produced an affordable reusable sanitary pad. To date, a million pads has been sold across East Africa. Mr. Okari was the 2013 nominee for Excellence in Entrepreneurship sponsored by the MasterCard Foundation.
Note this man’s deep desire to see these young women present to learn. He understood the power of education which compelled him to use his creativity to solve the absentee issue. Indeed, his was a significant passion project.
Utilizing Your Position to Support Your Destiny
Oftentimes the workplace is the training ground to develop you for your ultimate destiny. A career path can help you perfect skills, and interests while you develop your character.
Be observant as you answer these questions: “Under what circumstances do I get really stressed?” What are my strategies to create a work/life balance? How well do you deal with people issues? What people skills do you need to learn how to master? How can you use your position to further develop your strengths? What development programs can I take advantage of?
When your current employment can be viewed as a training ground to prepare you for the bigger picture—living your purpose—rather than as a final destination, employee engagement rises.
In many industries professional development programs are offered or you can read a book or listen to CDs to hone a specific skill. Shadow and take copious notes from a more experienced colleague in an arena of interest. There are conventions and associations to support your interest. Intentionally find ways to grow, particularly in your strength zone. Nothing is wasted when you approach work from this perspective.
Additionally, employment is a testing ground to develop you character. Your purpose, after all is undergirded by your character. We have surely witnessed talented people whose character marginalized the use of their gifting— charismatic pastors whose church topples due to sexual sin, senators caught in financial scandals that taint their records, a beloved teacher who is destroyed by verifiable accusations of molestation from scores of former students. Character and purpose are interlocking parts.
What Character Challenges Crop up at Work?
Handling adversity while keeping your faith is a difficult balancing act. What steps can you take to handle an irate boss or difficult customer? How do you manage to stay motivated during adversity to do excellent work? How can you live your values in an unsupportive work environment? How can you grow your emotional intelligence so self-care is on top of the list instead of the bottom? How can increased self-awareness strengthen your performance at work?
Facing adversity oftentimes necessitates you answering these questions which prepares you for greater responsibilities your ultimate purpose demands.
Sometimes we lose sight of the bigger picture and get bogged down in the intricacies of a current dilemma. But the test reveals where you have yet to grow in character and can be the impetus for that growth. Amazingly, when you look back at your life you can see how your steps were ordered to define your character and leverage your purpose.
Identifying and grasping the big picture is an act of faith and it changes how you view work, the people that surround you, and the adversities you’ve faced. TD Jakes, a renowned mega pastor, author and movie producer, noted that past circumstances and current ones may be a vehicle that brings you to your purpose.
Recently, I had an “aha” moment. My mind drifted as I was writing an article, “Why do you like doing research so much? I thought. My passion for accurate information is based on my disdain for inaccurate information. As a child of an agoraphobic mother I remember feeling disconnected from people and events. I felt I didn’t belong, nor mattered. Socially anxious, being around people was something my mother did less and less of as the years went by. So, we rarely left the house other than to go to school or do a few errands. My shyness and social awkwardness was birthed from the palatable anxiety I felt daily in my household. Because of my limited interaction with the world, television shows such as, like the “The Brady Bunch” and “The Jeffersons” became a pseudo guide for living, and interactions with a few people throughout my childhood shaped my very narrow worldview.
The culmination of my social anxieties and insecurities became apparent in early adulthood. I had difficulty making friends, persisting in college and was constantly nervous—to the point of having panic attacks.
So, deeply frustrated one day, I vowed to go on a quest to identify what missing information I needed, and what erroneous thinking I had to overcome to make life work. Building social skills and a rigorous dedication to personal growth was born out of my childhood. A lengthy and difficult process, my dedication to becoming my best self, was nonetheless well worth it. I’ve become more successful, more authentic, relational, empathetic and joyful. These are the roots underpinning my ever growing passion for accurate knowledge that gets results in life.
Everything you’ve suffered can be used to usher you into your purpose. Even if you were abandoned as a child or you experienced abuse at the hands of a trusted adult, no matter how many tears you’ve cried or the profound heartaches you’ve suffered, through faith and choice, it can be recycled into wisdom and a beautiful purpose that serves you, your family and the greater community. Keep moving step by step towards your purpose. Authentic fruit results as God prunes and uses our lives.
To be energized, creative, authentic and joyful, incorporating your unfolding purpose is vital. Whether you’re working a nine to five, or are an entrepreneur: actively involved in passion projects, or seeking personal growth, keep the big picture in mind. Your work is to fully live out your potential, so that innovation and your unique calling changes the lives of those around you.