• Caroline Ridgway

Purpose is Not Stasis: Dream Jobs and Collaborative Adaptation

We’ve all had some version of the thought, if only I had x, or could do y, or accomplish z, I’d be happy, successful, satisfied, etc. This is as relevant personally as professionally. Sometimes the two overlap, e.g., if only I could earn this much money everything would be easier. Usually, what we discover is that life doesn’t operate along such straightforward quid pro quo lines. Achievement isn’t calculated in one-to-one ratios. Experience isn’t linear. Realistically, one thing simply leads to the next, which may feel like forward momentum, or the reverse, or stasis.

Have you seen the memes depicting the entrepreneurial trajectory as resembling an EKG in volatility? You don’t need to see the image to relate to the feeling. If you are where you are today in your career because expectations you identified some years ago worked out mostly as projected, congratulations. You’re in the minority.

A better, and truer, assessment than asking if everything has gone according to plan is, how have your values and passions shaped the decisions you have made professionally? There, I think you’ll find better internal alignment.

There’s been much made of the value of purpose. Some of it secular in orientation, some assertively faith-based in nature. Purpose as it relates to leadership. Purpose as it relates to mission. Purpose as it relates to the very meaning of life, à la Viktor Frankl.

Purpose is not stasis. It is a rollicking combination of forward and back with a unifying sense of meaning and motivation. Purpose may impel a career in the nonprofit sector, or equally so in the upper echelons of finance or business. While reductive to conclude “if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life” or to suggest that if you simply follow your passions you’ll inevitably find success (keeping in mind the variable definitions of success), it helps to start from a place of truth: what do you want; what moves you; what connections and outcomes resonate the most deeply with you.

In the theme of “words matter” and my focus on communications, I’ve been thinking about job titles and descriptions. I’ve had jobs with highly specific titles and associated expectations, within which there was little room to move or anticipation of growth. I’ve had jobs with no title. Currently, my job description encompasses anything and everything I deem important to fulfill my client obligations while—this is important—continuing to iterate, evolve, and proactively pursue the me in the mix.

If you could, today, in this moment, write your ideal job title and description, where would you start? Especially if you were constrained by the character limits on a standard business card. So, for instance, it would be tough to call yourself Chief the Specifics of My Work Change Every Damn Day Officer, even if that’s accurate.

It’s a worthwhile exercise, though, to think through on your own or in conjunction with your team. Words do matter, and empowering the people we work with to have a say in the dynamics of their role can drive engagement, loyalty, and buy-in. Your company may have a more top-down or horizontal hierarchy, which informs the basic descriptors like manager, director, etc. And, to be sure, some jobs just need to get done. But everyone wins when each individual can feel attached to their purpose. You don’t know what remarkable talents and capacities a person might possess until they are given the space to learn, explore, and grow.

All day long, in and out of awareness, we categorize people, catalog information, and absorb external influences. We do all this in service of our own expectations. Acknowledging, however, that expectations shift, we can equally ply our interpretations and storytelling to support a contextual, people-first approach. Plans will still change—they must!—but we’ll be better equipped to collaboratively adapt.

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