How to Find Your Career Purpose

To uncover what you are meant to do, consider both the potential positives and challenges of a role -- and get a second opinion.

Professional manufacturing employee

Socrates advised ancient Greeks to “know thyself.” Thousands of years later we still wrestle with that essential task, especially when it comes to what we should do in our careers. Defining our career purpose can be a struggle at the beginning of your career and as your wants, needs and interests evolve over the years. No matter what stage you’re in, here are strategies to uncovering and finding your career purpose.  
 
Practice inversion 
To decide what you want to do, it helps to first define what you don’t want at this particular point in your career. Maybe you don’t want longer hours in the office. Perhaps you aren’t willing to accept a salary below a certain point so you can afford a new home. It could be you don’t want to answer to your current boss anymore. Clearly naming what you want to avoid will help narrow down what you actually want to do. 
 
Consider opportunity costs 
Every success comes with trade-offs. If you land a position in management, that often comes with more unglamorous responsibilities. To get a promotion, you may have to relocate. To scratch a creative itch you’ve wanted your whole career, you may have to take a pay cut. Make a list of the trade-offs you are willing to accept, and what might be a deal breaker to direct you to the right spot.  
 
Assess your strengths and weaknesses 
Human skills and abilities are multifaceted, so one way you can think of your strengths and weaknesses is through Howard Gardner’s model of nine intelligences. Gardner, a Harvard professor of psychology, theorized that humans had the capacity for musical-rhythmic intelligence, visual-spatial intelligence, verbal-linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, naturalistic intelligence and existential-moral intelligence. Which of these traits stand out to you? 
 
Talk to a mentor 
Finally, get the trusted opinion of somewhat who knows you, to make sure you aren’t missing any blind spots or hidden strengths. Do they see you in a job that maximizes your skills? If not, what role could play to your natural intelligence strengths? 
 
Finding the purpose in your career can be a constantly unfolding discovery, which may mean small tweaks to your responsibilities in a job all the way to complete career field change. The drilling down time takes patience, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t wake up one day and immediately know what you want. But give it time, attention and diligence and you will get closer to what you are meant to do. 
 
More Tips For Managing Your Career: 
3 Strategies for Advancing Your Career
Creating a Personal Strategic Plan for Personal and Professional Success
Creating a 30-60-90 Day Plan to Secure the Job