We hear a lot about the importance of having a clear sense of purpose. Yet for many people it can be difficult to know what their purpose is - or even if it really matters.
In this episode Jean explores the idea of purpose - what it is and why it matters. She shares practical ways of helping you to become clearer about your purpose in your work.
The episode includes
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Hi everyone. And greetings from Singapore. I'm Jean Balfour, founder of Bailey Balfour, and a leadership and life coach. And welcome to the first making sense of work podcast. This is really exciting for me. It's such a new beginning and opportunity to have conversations with people and to explore topics relating to work. I am really curious about work. Often. The first question I will ask people is how's work going or what's going on at work and. There's something for me that I'm just curious about how we can have happy and fulfilling work lives. And I'm pretty committed in my work to helping people to have happy and fulfilling work lives. And in this podcast, I'm going to explore how we can make sense of work, how we can do just that. Inch towards being happier or more fulfilled at work. And I'm going to do that by sharing some thoughts and insights about topics that either you ask me to share or that, um, the people I invite to have conversations with will share. And I'm recording this with a group of people and there's opportunities for those who are with me, live in the recording to ask questions as well. If you've got a question that you'd like me to answer in the podcast, you can go to the show notes and follow the links there. And I'm really happy to look at that. Today we're starting by looking at how we can make sense of purpose at work. I guess, a good place to start. If we're trying to make sense of work is about how can we make sense of our purpose. Uh, I don't know about you, but I've noticed that over the last 10 years, there's been a lot of talk about how we need to know our purpose and we need to be doing our work aligned with our purpose. And for some of us, that's been a really natural and easy process. And for some of us it's been a much harder process and it feels a bit vague and it's quite hard to work out what it is. And it's a mystery. So in the podcast today, what I want to do is talk a bit about purpose, what it is, and to share some practical exercises that we can try, that you can try things I've done to help see if you can become clearer about your purpose. I thought I'd start with a little bit about my own journey on this, actually, why it's relevant for me at the moment I. Have really spent my working life in people development and helping people grow, helping people to be more effective leaders and, um, helping people to be more effective colleagues. And I've always known that underneath it. There was some sense about personal growth, but last year I had a major period of burnout and leading to a mild depression and it really got me thinking about how I might be a bit misaligned with my core purpose and that some of the reason that I was really at that end of burnout was because I was out of what I would describe as my lane. I was, as in somebody else's lane, I was doing somebody else's version of my purpose in my life. So I did a lot of exercises and a lot of activity around really circling back to think, is there a core purpose? And if I got more aligned with my core purpose, What would my working life be like? And, um, and how would my energy be and how would my mental health be? And a very curious thing emerged as I went on this journey. And that was that I realized, um, that I'm really. Ultimately my core purpose is what I was doing when I was younger. When I was 14, I declared to the world that I was going to be a teacher, a primary school teacher. And that is what I did. I left school at 17. I went to teacher's college. I didn't go to university. And by the time I was 20, I had a classroom of 30 7 year olds, which was quite exhausting. I can tell you. And I taught for five years. And during that time I began to think. This is okay, but I feel like something's missing. And then I, um, got asked to do a bit of teacher training and discovered a whole world of working with adults that was just new and really exciting. I enjoyed it. It was after school that I was teaching. So it was at the end of a tiring day. And yet I noticed I had energy for it. And the people who came seem to enjoy it, they were also at the end of a long teaching day and they came and they kept coming and they brought people with them and I thought, Hmm, I think there's something here. So I then left teaching and moved into learning and development roles and leadership roles in organizations. And then. That are done at the time I moved out into consultancy 20 years ago now. So over this last year, I realized that I'm actually still a teacher and that if I began to filter all of what I'm doing, Through the teaching filter. There might be some things in my job that I would stop doing. So for example, uh, I run a small business. I would look for ways for other people to work in the business to run that business, because that might be part of what was draining me. And I would look for more ways to teach, which is, I guess what I'm doing now. So what I'd like to do is share some insights about that, how you do that, what it means, and then some exercises to help you to go on that journey to. Before we do that, a few, uh, things to help explore. What are we meaning by purpose and how does it land? Well, I think for me, purpose is really about knowing the reason we do something it's as simple as that, it's understanding a little bit about our why, and it might be that we're doing things that fit our strengths that fit our values. Where we know that we do them and we really enjoy them. And, um, Simon Sinek of course, wrote his book, looking at organizations, having a clear sense of purpose and why he called it and noticing that those organizations that were very clear about that were more profitable. And I believe there's an alignment with our working lives as well. If we can find ways to get our work more aligned with our purpose then I believe that we can be more successful, be more energized and have a lot more enjoyment. There's also been some research studies looking at it. The one I talk about the most is, um, Daniel Pink's work about motivation and he identified three things as being fundamentally key motivation at work. One was autonomy. Second was mastery and the third one was purpose. And for him in this case, purpose was about how did it align with. Um, the team that you're in, do you know how your role connects into what the team is doing and that connects into the organization? But I believe it also is that I have some sense of my value and purpose in the role I'm doing for itself. So it's really about that. It's about that alignment. And I kind of think about it as, um, being in, uh, in my lane. So if you think about yourself in a running race, not that I would do much running, but if you imagine this, um, If I'm in my lane, it's kind of easy to run because I'm not nobody's in my way. I know where the destination is and I can run, uh, with ease. If you like. If I move out of my lane into other people's lanes, I have to be aware of not bumping into them, but also I'm kind of concentrating on how do I get back? There's an energy of not being there. If I'm in my lane, I'm I can be in flow and I could be in that place of doing what it is that I meant to be. So it's really a way of just getting into the zone of the work or the way in life that we want to be. That helps us to feel fulfilled. There's a very beautiful book, a restaurant by Stephen Cope called The Great Work of your Life in which he explores the concept of what he called dharma. Uh, Of course, he didn't start the term Dharma. It comes out of spiritual teachings, the idea of vocation and in it, he talks about how finding our purpose is not necessarily a, you know, a step-by-step thing or a leap that we get there that it's like an iterative journey that we go through that we may be, get a little glimpse into. Well, maybe this is my purpose. And then that might become clearer and clearer and clearer. And that's because I, I do think it's a series of action and reflection, trying things out, and then reflecting, seeing how. So we have to try things out and move forward into those things. See if this is our lane, see how it's working and then maybe we need to try something else. There's a couple of caveats about purpose that I think it's important to share the first is we might become very clear about our purpose and know that there's no way that we can align our working life with this for very practical reasons. We may not be able to move jobs for family reasons, for geographical reasons. It may be that the only way we can earn a living as to do the jobs that are available to us and that we need to do those jobs and there can be a real level of discomfort. If we get into, if we're in a job like this and we see our purpose and we think, how, how do I deal with this disconnect? And actually I think this happens to most of us at some stage in our life. We end up in a job. That's not aligned with our purpose and we have to work out what to do. And my suggestion for this is if this is where you are, Um, is to look for tiny ways to express your purpose. So either look for ways that the weekend or in the evenings, if you've got time by doing a bit of voluntary work or, um, putting some creativity in finding ways of doing it, um, see if there's ways that you can do it within your job. So, so for example, you know, I, we train coaches and some coaches can do the training and then feel a bit frustrated that they're not able to coach more because their jobs are not aligned with coaching and they're not, um, they're not being rewarded for the time that they would be spend coaching. And so my suggestion then is for look for ways that you can coach that are, that are small and may not be called coaching, at least would be aligned with coaching. So for example, can you do some mentoring, can you support onboarding of new employees? Can you be, um, working on a project that might need you to be in a bit of, in a bit of a coaching role in the project. So you're still on the project that you're coaching. So I think if we're not aligned with our purpose, in our role, we can look for little ways to be in that lane. Um, whilst we are in that role. And that may be for a long time. So we have to be very creative about how we do that. The other thing is that knowing your purpose doesn't mean that life will suddenly become easy and straightforward. I had an interview last week on a podcast with Liane Moriarty who wrote big little lies and many, many, many other novels. So she's a writer. She knows it's her purpose. She loves it. And yet she still has to make herself sit down at her laptop by using methods that make her do, it's like having a timer, setting little rewards for doing it. So here she is doing a job she loves and is incredibly good at, and she still has to make herself do it. So knowing our purpose doesn't mean that we won't be areas that we need to have discipline in that we'll need to make sure that we do things. It doesn't make life all easy. It just means that when I'm in my lane, I might still need to run hard. But I know I'm in my lane. Okay. So what can we do to become clearer about it? So, as I said, I think it's an iterative process and that it involves action and reflection. And I'm going to share with you a few of the things that I've done that have really helped. Um, so the first is, uh, noticing our energy. So doing it, what we might call an energy audit, and you can do this over a few days or over a couple of weeks. At the end of each day. Look back and think, um, when was my energy low, or being drained and when was my energy high or being fed, and these can be really good indicators about where we are drawn to. And so, for example, I noticed that today as I was preparing for the podcast, I I really got lost in time because I was really enjoying it. I was kind of getting into the content and thinking about what I wanted to say. It's a high energy thing, felt good at the end of it. Uh, it's teaching and preparing for teaching it's in my lane. And if I had spent a day doing my accounts, you can be rest assured that I would be tired, drained, not feeling great because I don't believe that working in financial planning or accounting is my lane. I, uh, know in love many people for whom it is their lane, and that is where they get energy and focus and really happy. So it's just really about noticing that energy. Where is it going? The, the next exercise is one that I learned from Martha Beck, who is a life coach and author. And she talks about taking the idea of 10,000 hours. So, uh, some of you may have read Malcolm Gladwell's work about the idea that if we do something for 10,000 hours, we get really adept at it and skills at it. And she says, take that in retrospect. So look at things that you've done in your life for 10,000 hours, which for me, cause I'm older is easy, but if you're younger, you might want to take 5,000 hours or 2000 hours. But what are the things that you've done? And because often they are things that we are choosing to do, but things that we're drawn to do. So I did this exercise and three things emerged. Well, the first one was teaching that was really obvious. Uh, I have spent so much of my life teaching that it seems pretty clear to me that that's there. The second thing that came up for me was personal growth and development. Um, I've had, uh, spent a lot of time reading self-help books. I've had masses of things like psychotherapy and coaching for myself. Um, I've done a lot of personal development programs. And when I look back at that over time, it easily adds up to 10,000 hours all the time I do journaling and all of that 10,000 hours easily. The other one that surprised me a bit was cooking because I don't see myself as a grand cook, but I love to cook for friends and family. And I realized that I've done a lot of that. So that was good. So these are things that can help you to do that, to look back and see, where am I drawn? Where do I naturally go? Couple of other little things that you can do play with words about values and strengths and write a list of your values, write a list of your strengths and see if you can narrow it down to five words that represent you and what you're doing and see if they give you clues about your purpose. So mine, for example, would be. Personal growth, mine and others. Um, it's about being around people. It's about working hard and so on. And if I look at those, I can begin to see the themes of purpose arising. You can look at when you're in flow flow is this concept that we get into a piece of work and we don't notice the time. We don't even pick up our phone when we're in flow or look at our emails. And, um, you can look at bits of your day when you're in flow days or weekends. Whereas when you're curiously just engrossed in something, what is that? What clues does that give you about your purpose? You can ask close friends, they would often have clues about what they think is your purpose. And I, I guess my close friends would say, well, of course it's teaching and coaching Jean. Cause that's, that's where you are. That's who you are. Um, and finally, can I take the idea of hot and cold? So, um, I like to be hot. So, if I feel something's warm, I'm going to be drawn towards it. If it's cold, I'm going to be pushed away from it. So if you're somebody who likes to kind of feel things in your body notice, work that you're drawn towards and work that you kind of repelled by that leaves you feeling caution card. Some people talk about this as a whole body. Yes. I'm up for that. And whole body no that. Say, I'm not going to do. So there are some thoughts and ideas about this concept of purpose and how we can become clearer about our purpose and explore it. And as I said, I don't necessarily believe it's a linear journey. It might be a lifelong journey for some of us, and I believe it's a journey worth going on. So now we have an opportunity for me to answer any questions. If anyone's got anything in the, in the group who are with me today that they are curious about, or maybe would like me to consider. Thanks everyone. So this is the first one that popped out is curious about purpose and burnout. So, Well, actually, let me just tell you my story and what I noticed, because that's probably the, the simplest one is that I, I noticed that when I was burnt out, I really began to look at what it, what was, was draining me so badly because I, I run a company I love to run. Uh, I do a job I love. What was going on, it seemed a bit of a mystery and actually it, it actually boiled down to the business side for me, that actually being in the details of making sure all the details of the business was running and the programs and, um, and all it being really in the operational detail. Actually was burning me out because I was really outside of my lane. And the biggest change for me happened when a colleague joined and she is operationally brilliant and she just sorted it all out and lifted it, literally off my shoulders. So it, it felt easier. And then my energy began to return because I wasn't there. So I, I think that if we're really out of our lane, um, We are doing work that is draining us and we're not doing enough. That is feeding us. And it's really that balance. I believe that it, all of our work at times drains us, but we have to have work that's feeding us as well. And if we've not got enough work, that's feeding us we can head towards burnout. Now, of course we can. There's lots of other reasons we can head towards burnout, but that's the connection for me between purpose and burnout. And then another question is asked of how can we be content with doing our best or achieving our own goals and not stress ourselves competing, or meeting expectations of others? Yeah, this is beautiful because, um, we are imposed upon by society, expectations of society and, um, of our families and our friends. And really there's a, there's a, um, a piece that we feel that we need to be doing, what other people expect of us. And also what society expect. So society has norms around work and how we should be working and what that looks like. So, so an example of that is at the moment we have so many norms about how many hours we should be working and how available should we should be on our emails. And if we want to choose our own goals and our own life, and that's different to that, and it can feel like with. Against that. And I guess, um, my way of thinking about this is, is to feel it well, first of all, to be very clear about what is it that I want to be doing, what I think is best for me, because I'm the only person living my life. And then to just become really aware of where those tension points are. So if we take the long working hours, um, and, and think about how do we live our lives in a way where we're not working as long working hours, it's to become increasingly aware of where the voices in our head are saying. Ah, but you should be working because that's what other people think you should be doing. Or that's what you feel society is saying I should be doing. And then you just notice those thoughts and begin to choose to put them down, choose to do them differently. Um, so it's really, uh, getting clear about our expectations, but also being aware of the voices that we have, people are always going to have expectations about us. It's important that we find ways to be best for us. So what about if you found your purpose and your current jobs not aligned? It can be scary and it takes courage to step towards embarking on the journey. What would your advice be? It is scary. I've done it actually, when I, when I first left teaching and then I, when I, again, when I left organizations and again, when I left London, I've taken, uh, very scary steps and moved, um, out of what was comfort zones and yet not the right zone. Um, well, my approach to it is first of all, is planning, planning, planning. So doing as much planning as I can. So any practical things I'm aware of, even if I can't resolve them, I know where the things that might cause me a problem in the future are going to be. I, I hold a mix of dreaming and practicality. So sometimes we can think that, okay, that's my dream. I'm going to go and do that. Um, and, and yet it may at the moment not be practical. And I, I do think there's a lot, um, Uh, about, you know, we were selling out. If we stay in the job, that's not aligned with our purpose. And so we have to go off and live our dream and, and really, it's not always as easy or as practical as that. So, so I guess what I'm saying is stay in the practicality. That's the first thing. The second thing is that what can be stopping us is our own, again, inner voice of fear. And again, for me, that would be. Identifying the fear, looking at it, seeing whether it's real and journaling can really help with that and looking for ways to live courageously and say, okay, I've looked at all the practical stuff. I think it's a risk worth taking and I'm going to head out into it. Thank you. Okay. So final question for today is how is purpose different from goals? Lots of people have goals that bring them satisfaction, but does purpose give greater satisfaction? I wonder whether, whether we might get caught in trying to separate goals and purpose, and actually for some people, their goals are their purpose. And for some people, their purpose are their goals. Um, and so I, I really wonder if. If the goals are bringing me satisfaction, do I need to know any more about my purpose? Probably not I'm happy and fulfilled at work. I'm satisfied. That's probably enough. I think that the movements that we have at the moment where we need to understand our purpose, Is is a movement and we don't have to understand that purpose it's if we want to, we can. And if we're happy and fulfilled, the goals are really helping us draw towards things that are pulling us toward satisfaction. That's stretching and growing us. Then that's all good. So we come to the end of the first podcast and I'd really like to thank those who have joined me on the call and to really encourage you, if you choose to go on a journey of becoming clearer about your purpose.