When I was a university professor I would regularly advise my undergraduate students to follow their heart when choosing a major. "It's a more efficient way to live!" I would encourage them. Following your heart is also a habit to start cultivating early on, because intuition is like a muscle or sonar: the more you use it, the stronger and clearer it gets. The more you ignore it, the more flaccid and dimmer it becomes. It also helps you live a meaningful life overall which happiness guru Gretchin Rubin advises is integral to self-awareness.

In total, there are four key ingredients to a successful, purpose driven career. Visualize them as an intersecting Venn diagram:  

1. Love and Passion

This is the part that we often leave to the end, but it is important to start here and not treat it as a luxury to love what you do. As my father told me decades ago, "If you do what you love, you'll have to turn down opportunities!"

2. Skill

You've got to actually be good at the particular vocation, and develop expertise over time.

3. Compensation

Earning a comfortable living is always relative, but ideally, we want the time and energy spent learning an occupation to convert into a comfortable life style. And remember- it's not how much money you make, it's how much money you keep.

4. User-Centered

This design thinking component is something that we can forget.  But consistently fall in love with people's problems- not your solutions-  and you will never be out of business. Ensure that people need and are fulfilled by what you love, are skilled at and from which you can make money.

Too many of us wake up in our forties only to realize that the golden hand cuffs are stifling and that we are missing meaning and purpose in our lives. With this in mind, I've become enchanted with the feeling of ikigai, a Japanese philosophy that refers to the concept of the source of all things that give your life value. It can be loosely translated into "the thing that you live for".  Ikigai is the result of doing spontaneous activities that make you feel alive and have a reason for living". On the Japanese island of Okinawa, ikigai's origin, researchers  have found one of the highest concentrations of contented centenarians. Dan Beuttner, a National Geographic explorer talks about it in this 2009 TEDx talk.

Scaled to organizations ikigai and purpose might be called sensemaking, a term that sociologist Karl Weick first presented in an academic article in 1988. Sensemaking is the process that individuals use to bring collective meaning to their work by interpreting events (mergers, loss of market share; successful product launches) all for the purpose of making meaning.  Sensemaking, like ikigai, creates an ongoing and spontaneous feedback loop process. It helps organizations make retrospective sense of what has just occurred.

Imagine the shift in tone your company would have if individuals were driven by ikigai and the entire organization made time for sensemaking. It would make all the difference in the world to help navigate ambiguity, uncertainty and bring employees together in a more authentically social way. Ultimately, your customer will thank you because all great customer experiences start with intentional inside-out work.

Published on: Jun 29, 2019
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