What Do You Want to Be When You Grow up? Time to Ask Yourself Again?
Remember the energy you used to feel as a child, cape flying behind you, little hands arresting innocent teddy bears or tending to the needs of injured dolls? Whether you were a superhero, a police officer or a nurse (or an endless array of fictional or ‘real’ professions in between), you felt a strong sense of purpose. It was a certain pull towards a profession- a sense that it was just meant to be. It tapped into your unique gifts, energizing and defining who you were. You were brazen and fearless in your pursuit- nothing could stand in your way.
Now, let’s just take our capes off for a second. Let’s zoom back in on the present, to a time of ever-increasing employee disengagement, stress and burnout. What changed since the days of our zestful pursuits and the present day? Might it be a lack of meaning in our work? A sense of purposelessness? Feeling unconnected to the people we work with, the clients we serve- and ultimately, ourselves.
At such a time of disengagement and meaninglessness, we need a pretty strong antidote, and I would like to suggest it comes in the pursuit of vocation. That’s right- what we need are not more vacations- if not a greater sense of VOCATION. Psychologists define this as the pursuit of work that is morally, socially and personally meaningful. Such work taps into our natural strengths, creating intrinsic motivation and providing a sense of purpose in our lives. Feeling purposeful increases our well-being, as we contribute to something bigger than ourselves and feel connected to others.
For optimal motivation, psychologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci suggest we have three needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness. To what degree do you feel these needs are being satisfied right now? Do you have a certain amount of freedom to make decisions related to your work? Do you feel competent- able to constantly build on a well-established skill set? Do you feel connected to clients, colleagues and the world around you through your work? To what extent could you meet these needs in your current work?
Working within one’s vocation also involves using one’s strengths- something that is both energizing and conducive to greater well-being (whilst ever they are not being overused). If you are unsure about your natural strengths, you can take a wonderful Positive Psychology survey here:
Once you’re clear about your strengths, you can consider those which you’re able to bring to work on a daily basis. Are there strengths that are currently being squandered? Is there any way you could incorporate them into your current position? Equally, are there any strengths which are being overused to your detriment? Psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski teaches us that it’s possible to ‘job craft’, whereby individuals are able to reframe the work they do in ways that better meet their psychological needs. One way to do this is by seeing the bigger picture.Wharton School professor Adam Grant carried out research which showed that when employees were connected to the end user of a product or service, they worked much harder to strive for excellence. That’s because they had a sense of purpose- the famous reason ‘why’ that Simon Sinek so eloquently defines.
What if you try all of these suggestions, and still feel your work is not aligned to who you really are? Might it be time to take action? There are three ways to see work: as a job, a career or a vocation. Within any one type of work, it’s been found that these inclinations are almost equally split into three- so obviously perspective comes into play. Vocation is a highly subjective — only you can decide who you want to be. However, studies show that people experience work as more meaningful when they’re able to be themselves.
The start of 2018 may provide the perfect opportunity to ask yourself who you really are. Is the work you do aligned to your authentic self? Might it be time to grow into that which you’ve always been? When we’re children, we already have a strong sense of who we are and in which direction our natural inclinations go. Might it be time to put that cape back on and go and save some lives? It may be now or never…