Career vs. Purpose: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

We all enter this lifetime with a purpose to fulfill. Yet most of us have been programmed from very young to put significant energy towards a career that we hope will meet certain needs for us — often needs that are out of alignment with who we really are and our life purpose.

Few, it seems, have manifested, or even become clear of their purpose. Yet your purpose is not meant to be a mystery; it is not meant to be hidden. But finding it is often challenging.

Many people spend their whole lifetime working at their careers, perhaps with some sense of dissatisfaction, and often without an awareness of their true purpose in this lifetime. Others may seek their purpose, unsure of where to begin, except with the knowledge that their purpose is “not this,” that it is not what they are doing to make a living. And most come to the understanding that the work they are doing to fund their lifestyle is not a living, but a job. Most of us spend our greatest chunk of concentrated time performing at least a job, at most a career, and very rarely a living. So how do we resolve this dissonance between career and purpose?

In my personal journey of exploring issues of career and life purpose for myself and to assist others, I was greatly helped by a wise Hopi Indian woman. She told me, “It is difficult for your people to find purpose because you measure yourselves by your doing. But purpose is about living, not about doing.” And I have met many people who have expressed concern about how they could do both their job and their purpose. Well, the good news is — you don’t need to. Do your job and live your purpose!

And yet this is not as easy as it sounds. First you must become clear on what is your purpose. And this inward journey may take you into territory you have never explored. It is often helpful to have a guide, someone who has undertaken the journey and is living their purpose. This could be a professional or someone you are blessed to know who can fill this role.

After embarking on this journey and discovering your purpose, you will likely find that you are not the same person as the one who dared undertake the trip. And you may find that simply doing your job is not enough for you anymore. So you many chose to make a career change. Or you may live your purpose through an avocation, or even through the way you are being in your life and with those around you.

What Is Your Purpose?

If your purpose is to create harmony, you may choose to do that in your family, on your job, as a peace worker, or even as a concert musician. So many options are available, once you arrive at that place of knowing. Yet some will resonate more strongly with your highest self than others.

A few examples may help to illustrate these points. Abby was a hard-working marketing manager. She was successful at the job, but felt an increasing sense of restlessness and emptiness. This dissatisfaction spilled over into her personal life and she began to feel stagnant and stuck. She often considered what her purpose in life could be, but felt unclear and confused when she thought about it.

One day, she decided to work on volunteer project at a youth shelter with her women’s group. During the afternoon, she took a brief break away from the rest of the volunteers, and she bumped into one of the youths at the residence. What started as a casual conversation led to a discussion of the issues related to the teen’s assignment to the program. The young man was incredibly grateful for contact with an adult that had no agenda for him, and he thanked her for her help. After completing the volunteer project, Abby often considered what had transpired that afternoon. She thought of going to school to become a social worker and changing careers, but struggled with the loss of income, especially since she regularly sent money to her family whom all lived in a foreign country. After much soul searching and working with her life coach, she decided to keep her well-paying job and to devote time every week to volunteering at the youth program. Now she feels fulfilled by her work with adolescents and is grateful that she can also help her family financially.

Samantha made a different choice. She was happily married with 3 children. She considered herself lucky to be able to work part-time as a computer programmer. After 15 years in the profession, she no longer enjoyed her work, but stayed for the money and the flexibility of her work schedule. Her youngest child, Amy, had an unusual learning disability, one that was not alleviated by a dose of drugs or helped by the school’s special needs program. Samantha did quite a bit of research on her own, and found her daughter’s teacher was receptive and eager to try the techniques she had learned about in her study.

Amy’s performance at school improved and her teacher encouraged Samantha to share what she had taught her with other teachers and parents. Over time, Samantha realized that working with children who were having difficulty in school settings was her calling. She sought the counsel of a social worker and her minister, and then decided to become a social worker and leave her computer job. Now she has a living, not a job. And several years later, she is still fulfilled by the work she does.

As each of our lives is unique, you will find that how you choose to express your purpose is uniquely yours. Yet so often, people look to cookie-cutter solutions that promise instant answers as a way to determine their life purpose. People often want others to tell them their purpose, or to offer them a simple formula or process that will define their life purpose for them. Yet, each one of us must discover that for ourselves in our own way. No one can live your purpose for you, and no one can take that journey of discovery on your behalf. But a guide who has made his or her own voyage can be of assistance. This is truly one of the greatest journeys of a lifetime. And in the process you may discover that you can have both career and purpose in your life. You can have your cake and eat it too.

Searching for your purpose is like learning to paint. Lessons can teach you the basics, and a mentor can instruct you in the finer points. But no one can place the brush strokes on your canvas for you; no one can paint the picture of your life’s purpose for you.

Noemi Paciorek, M.A, LMHC is a psychotherapist and life coach who specializes in helping people discover and manifest their life purpose. For more information about her work, you can reach her at 978-314-0722 or visit her website at