"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
Those are the famous words of Henry David Thoreau, quoted from his classic book Walden. There are millions of people who wonder when they will be able to stop worrying about paying their mortgages, whittling down their credit card debt, and working in jobs they can't stand.
We all long to align our life's purpose with what we do. After all, isn't that what every one of us wants -- a life filled with purpose and meaning?
The question is this: Do you know what your true purpose is, and are you pursuing it in your life, work, and career?
In his book The Purpose Path, Dr. Nicholas Pearce -- a professor at the Kellogg School of Management and assistant pastor of Chicago's historic Apostolic Church of God (I have worked with Nicholas in the past) -- presents a guide to determining what your authentic life's work is, and then pursuing it.
At the heart of the book is a unique concept that Pearce calls "vocational courage." Says Pearce,
I believe the practice of vocational courage -- boldly building a life of significance and not just importance -- is imperative for each and every one of us...Vocational courage is not simply about the job you select or the career you pursue, or about gaining fame or fortune, or even about finding your passion in life. At its very heart, vocational courage is about finding and pursuing your true purpose in life, and about making sure your life's work is reflected in your daily work.
According to Nicholas Pearce, by asking ourselves the following five questions, we can align our life's purpose with what we do and pursue our authentic life's work:
1. What is success?
The definition of success is different for each one of us. Some measure success in terms of the amount of money they make or the possessions they own, while others measure it by the positive impact they have on the world, and on those around them. And while some may define success as spending more time with their loved ones, they may spend so much time at work -- or bringing work home with them on the weekend -- that they don't have the opportunity to achieve the success they so desperately crave. Instead of work-life balance, Nicholas Pearce suggests the pursuit of whole-life integration, where your spiritual self, your physical self, your professional self, and your family self are all integrated. Ultimately, success is faithfulness to your calling.
2. Who am I?
How do you see yourself, what is your identity? Do you define your identity just by your physical body and your mind, or is there something more? According to Pearce, we are much more than our bodies and our minds. There is something much longer lasting and eternal about the soul within each of us, and figuring out how you wrap your mind around who you are -- independent of what you possess and what people say you are -- is fundamental. Your identity determines your character, and when you adopt a particular character, you take on the persona and value system that goes along with it. This self-discovery is an essential pre-condition to demonstrating vocational courage.
3. Why am I here?
If it's true that there is something more substantial to us as humans than flesh and bones -- that we should have some type of enduring impact on the world around us -- then our presence here on this earth should have some bearing on others' quality of life, just as others' presence should have some bearing on our quality of life. You are not an island, but at the same time there are so many ways that we can each be of benefit to others. What is your unique reason for being, and how do you determine it? Consider this example: If there's a part in your car that you don't understand, you don't go ask 1,000 different people, "What do you think this part is for?" Instead, you ask the company that made the car. In the same way, we look to our maker for the answer to the question, "Why am I here?"
4. Am I running the right race?
Each of us has our own race to run, and one of the most important keys to success is to make sure you're running the right race. You might look at others and see that they're full of joy in the race they are running. But don't think you're going to get the same joy by copying what they are doing. You will find your greatest joy and fulfilment in life when you pursue your calling -- what you are uniquely meant to do. This is where your values really come into play. When you have clarity about what your highest values are, you'll understand in what race you should be. This is where courage comes in, because you have to run your own race -- not your parents' or your boss's or your spouse's, friend's, or neighbor's.
5. Am I running the race well?
Running your race is not a competition against someone else, it is a competition against your best self. On this race, the destination is not as important as the journey. If you run the race well and finish, you've won. Running your race well requires figuring out who you really are, understanding what your values are, and then living out your values as you run the race. If you decide to become an investment banker, and you make a habit of cheating others and violating your values, then you are not running the race well. In other words, impact does not excuse disintegrity on the journey. Demonstrating vocational courage is not just about which path you've chosen, but also about the integrity with which you walk the path.