Home » Our thinking » How to find your professional purpose

How to find your professional purpose

6 mins read
Jason Phillips

At Nazaré, we define purpose as an aspiration that motivates and guides us towards our goals – but we know that it can sometimes be tricky to define for yourself. In this blog, we introduce you to the Japanese concept of Ikigai and a 3-step process to defining your own professional purpose.

Why are we talking about purpose now?

Recent turmoil in our environments have been a catalyst for a tantalizing PAUSE (what some are calling the “Great Resignation”), allowing leaders and professionals to take stock of what really matters to them, their purpose, and how they can bring it to life.

Gartner research suggests that 52% of employees have questioned the purpose of their day-to-day jobs due to the impact of the pandemic. This statistic is echoed by research from the CIPD, suggesting that some employees report that they perceive their work to have even lower levels of meaning than they did during the pandemic.

As an organization, having people who are working in a role that aligns with their professional purpose can lead to higher performance standards, better business outcomes and an ability to retain top talent.

As a leader, especially if you’re driving for high performance, it is critical that you support your organization, teams and individuals to identify their purpose, helping them to develop and connect it to what they do day-to-day.


Why do we actually need purpose?

Imagine yourself as a hunter gatherer, tens of thousands of years ago, driven to survive and reproduce. By seeking food, you could survive in your present day. However, to thrive, you needed to continue to accumulate food regardless, preparing for moments where it was unavailable due to poor weather or dangerous beasts roaming your cave.

This deeply ingrained drive to push beyond survival still sits within us today in our desire for purpose at work. Only 18% of employees believe they get the amount of purpose from work that they want and another 62% say that they want more, suggesting that, similar to our Hunter Gatherer ancestors, we are designed to keep on pushing and achieving.

In fact, research indicates that individuals with a clear sense of purpose display higher levels of life satisfaction, greater cognitive functioning and higher levels of grit, with some studies even suggesting that they display lower risks of mortality, due to associations with positive health behaviors.


Introducing Ikigai

One way to take a step closer to achieving these outcomes may lie in the Japanese concept of Ikigai.

Whilst not having a direct English translation, Ikigai has been described as the reason why you get up in the morning. It defines the values that make your life worthwhile and the meanings you attribute to things that give you joy and inspiration.

Ikigai is made up of four overlapping areas; what you are good at, what you love, what the world needs and what you can be paid for. Whilst focusing on and achieving your short-term goals may energize you during the near future, without Ikigai, without a clear purpose, you may start to feel disconnected, lacking the direction, energy and motivation to drive forward with action.


How can I discover my purpose?

Whilst Ikigai can be used to discover your purpose through pragmatic exploration, for some, finding purpose can come through life experiences.

Take me as an example – as a former Public Relations professional, I gravitated towards projects that sought to improve the ways of working, morale and culture within my respective teams and organizations. When I came to the realization that I was no longer satisfied with the alignment between my work roles and values, I returned to academia to retrain as an Organizational Psychologist.

For others, formal interventions, such as consulting frameworks or career coaching, can provide a safe space to explore their journey so far and what they want to get out of their working lives.

A method we regularly employ to help others define their professional purpose is by applying a 3-step process – one that asks them to consider the drivers behind their personality, the values that guide how they want to show up at work and uses these to define a statement that articulates why they get out of bed in the morning. A statement that is future-focused, simple in its construct and a motivator that drives them forwards, guiding the decisions they make.


The Nazaré three-step process of purpose discovery

Step 1: Identify your values

Steven Hayes defines our values as our ways of being and doing. They cannot be ‘achieved’ – they are ongoing guides to living, telling us where to focus our effort and energy. Think about how you could articulate these in one or two words – you can use as many as you need, but we recommend narrowing it down to 3 or 4 core values.


Step 2: Visualize your vision of success

Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine yourself in a few years’ time. What do you feel when you wake up in the morning? What do others notice about you? What makes you stand out from the crowd? How are you bringing to life the values you previously identified? Use these questions to help visualize your personal vision of success.


Step 3: Craft a purpose statement

Using your values and vision of success as stimulus, create a single statement that integrates the answers to these three questions:

  • What do you envisage doing?
  • What impact do you want to have on the world?
  • What will the world look like when you are living your purpose?

Remember, your purpose statement needs to be long-term, focused on the future and simple enough to act as a constant reminder through both your successes and challenges going forward.


How can I bring it all together?

Considering the elements above, I discovered through my professional and academic experiences that I had key values around fairness, respect and transparency, and a passion for helping professionals to develop whilst using my inherent and learned skills. This helped me to clearly articulate my purpose in a single statement:

By using my research, writing, presentation and coaching skills, I want to make the world of work a better place to help professionals both survive and thrive at work.

If you would like to find out more on how Nazaré can help your employees and teams to discover their purpose and enhance organizational performance, please get in touch with us.