Connecting the Dots: 4 Tips for Infusing Purpose Into Your Career

In Steve Jobs’s commencement speech at Stanford University, he said, “…you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Purpose can feel like that sometimes. We can look back at our lives and see where we’ve come, but we may not have the same confidence that we’re going where we’d like to when we turn around and look ahead. We get lost in the minutiae of the day or give up on that whole “purpose” thing because it may seem too lofty.

The thing is that we can find meaning in anything. Individuals who undergo trauma, for example, are more likely to recover and experience real happiness and joy again if they focus on finding meaning in what happened

Your career or job doesn’t have to be your “passion.” It can instead support your purpose or be just one step on the road to getting there. Bob Ross referred to these as “happy accidents.”

You can find purpose at any job. 

Here are some steps to follow to start figuring out your own “dots:”

  1. Make a list of things you enjoy. 

Take out a sheet of paper or open up the notes app on your phone and write down things you truly enjoy. It doesn’t have to be work-related at all. Maybe you love leading the prayer in your church group, coaching soccer, or being a Big Brother or Sister. Maybe you’ve always secretly loved writing. 

Whatever it may be, jot it down. Then look for any commonalities on your list. If, for example, you wrote down several activities that involved writing, it might be time to see if there’s a way you could involve more of that at your work or to consider starting up a side hustle. 

2. Start what you can at work. 

If writing isn’t much of an option for you at your job now, see if there’s a way you could still involve it. Maybe it’s time to start up a company newsletter or consider writing articles about what you or others are doing at your company for industry publications.

If you’re passionate about protecting the environment, what about instituting a recycling program or pitching the idea of purchasing eco-friendly products. 

You may also want to see if any positions are open at your company that may be more in line with what you’d want. 

3. Connect to your company’s purpose.

What is your company’s purpose? Why do they do what they do? What were they created for? How do they help consumers/customers/clients/patients? If you’re struggling with finding out your own purpose, think about grabbing onto theirs until you understand yours better.

Your company’s purpose may be as simple as make something easier or providing superior customer service. You have a purpose as an employee just by working there, so try to connect and tap into that “greater” purpose whenever you walk into the doors of your office or sign onto that Zoom call.

4. Let your job support what you actually enjoy. 

If your job doesn’t ultimately fulfill you or provide you the kind of meaning you would like, think of it instead as supporting your life and where else you find your job. 

For example, if you passionately love writing, but there’s not an option for you to do it in your current role, start writing outside of your work hours. Blog. Write and perform slam poetry. Then when you get into work, think of how your current job provides you with the ability to do what you love. No, you’re not making money from it, but your steady paycheck allows you to not have to rely on it financially and just let it be your art. 

Purpose is linked to so many improved outcomes, including better mental health, decreased stress, increased productivity, job performance, etc. Even if you feel like your current job isn’t the best fit for you long-term, it’s conducive to think about it as a part in an overall process. 

This is what Steve Jobs tells us: “You have to trust in something —your gut, destiny, life, karma whatever —because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path. And that will make all the difference.”

When you can think of your current job as just one dot in your life and you can focus on your higher purpose, you can start the connect with what you want from your future. 

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