Many times I have worried that I’m not doing work that answers a ‘purpose.’
To do work that is ‘my calling.’
To create things that will change the world for the better.
To do work that is ‘meaningful,’ and ‘valiant,’ and ‘noble.’
That only this kind of work can fulfill us.
The ‘gurus’ tell us this often.
They are both right…and wrong.
I think a lot of us can be stalled by overthinking this stuff. We aren’t able to commit to a new project, or we have doubts about the work we spend time on.
If it’s not changing the world for the better, or morally significant, we doubt ourselves, and we may never proceed with a project at all.
I have often asked myself:
‘Is what I’m doing my true calling?’
‘Do I know my purpose and am I following it?’
‘Am I wrong for wanting to do this for the money?’
No, I’m really not. I’ve never known what my purpose is. And I’ve wound myself up in thinking that I’m supposed to know what it is.
When we hear a guru or a pundit espousing the importance of doing work for the greater good, it’s because they are often already where they need to be to make this possible.
In this way, they are right. They have achieved a level of experience, wealth and influence to be able to turn to these things more consciously.
Yes, it is important to do work that is important to others; to the world. This is important for sustaining you in the long run, not to mention it will actually help the world!
But that will come in time, and often without you needing to think about it.
First, we need to be concerned with creating momentum in our own lives.
This starts with building a foundation.
You don’t need to know your purpose when you first get started.
When I got into working as an illustrator, all I focused on was doing something fun that could make a trickle of side income.
This eventually turned into a full-time job that ended up helping and inspiring other creatives. But I did not plan it this way.
With a recent transition into a new phase in my career, I was concerned that my decision to write for younger readers was not answering my ‘true calling.’
I didn’t know whether this was the best thing I could be doing with my time. Was I helping the world as best I could by writing ‘silly’ stories for kids?
It didn’t matter. Because when you’re new to a career path, you just need to do what has potential for you. Do what interests you, and certainly do what can earn good money, if you don’t have much money yet.
Be selfish to start. Do what pays. Cover your bases first. Then do what is fun; what is ‘cool’ for you.
There are stages to this that go something like this:
- Find and do something that covers your essentials. Get money (Bonus points if that thing is also interesting).
- Use the experiences gained here to figure out your interests.
- Unless that thing is NOT allowing you to grow; accumulate; change — stay with it.
- Passion will come from the sensation of your skills developing in something.
- This added passion will lead to more effective work, traction, and more influence.
- With influence and greater stability, you are in a position to figure out how to give more to those around you. (This is the point at which most gurus say you need to focus on purpose, but they fail to mention the steps required to get here).
If that thing you must do is cleaning driveways, great. If it’s volunteer work in the Congo, excellent. If what’s cool for you is building sculptures out of lego, go for it with all the gusto you have.
Focus on your foundation and gaining momentum. Worry about the ‘purpose’ stuff later, if at all. This will keep you going into the long-term, yes, but to get started and to get moving, you need to be initially selfish.
Only through a healthy dose of selfishness can you become the kind of person that the world needs.
Forget overthinking this stuff. Become self-sufficient before being charitable.
Figure out what you need to do to start seeing traction in your thing first.
Lose yourself in the momentum that comes with a positive fascination in something, and your ‘purpose’ might just reveal itself to you.
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