When I was around 13 years old, my mom bought the book, “I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America," by Brian Lanker. I spent hours pouring through the pages and reading about these heroic women. During their lives, they were activists, judges, dancers, and politicians, just to name a few.
In all of my fangirling over these women, one woman stood out, Clara McBride Hale, also known as Mother Hale. Mother Hale founded the Hale House in Harlem in 1973. The Hale House cared for babies born to substance-addicted mothers.
And with that, I got the first notion of my own purpose. I wanted to become a doctor so I could care for the smallest and most vulnerable among us. Had you asked my 13-year-old self at the time, I would have told you, “I want to take care of drug-addicted babies like Mother Hale.”
This solitary purpose was the foundation for the path that led me to medical school and eventually to my career as a child psychiatrist. While the details shifted, the notion of wanting to help vulnerable populations remained.
Having a guiding purpose, your “why”, can be grounding, guiding and gratifying. This can be the difference between choosing and remaining in a career that you love and languishing away in a difficult, unfulfilling job and life.
I’m sure that you went into medicine with a guiding purpose. A lot of us wanted to help others and make the world better. This was probably enough to get you started on your way. As you persevered through training, it was the buoy reminding you that in the end, it would all be worth it.
Somewhere along the way, many of us lose our connection with our purpose. Maybe it’s changed, the broad “I want to help” no longer anchors you in a turbulent medical culture. Perhaps long ago, you abandoned any mantras that served to keep your purpose in focus.
If you’ve become untethered from your purpose, you’re likely to at some point, to find yourself questioning whether or not you are doing what you want to be doing. Questions such as, “Was it a mistake to go into medicine?” or “Do I need a career change?” Have probably entered you mind at least once or twice.
Before making any life altering shifts, it’s helpful to either reconnect to or reestablish your purpose. What larger thing is calling you forward and begging you to take advantage of your desires, knowledge and skills?
Your purpose can ground you
For many of us, being a part of something bigger than ourselves can fill us with joy and meaning. We can rest in the knowledge that we’re working towards a greater good by fulfilling a role uniquely suited to us.
You can experience the peace that comes from the clarity of knowing your “why”. When we can attach meaning to our lives and work, we are more likely to experience joy and create sustainable work circumstances.
Knowing and claiming your “why” is an anchor that allows you to explore and become your whole self.
Your “why” can guide you into forging a path that is uniquely your own
When you have clarity around your purpose, you can make decisions that align with that purpose. Your “why” becomes your North Star. When you’re feeling stuck and off track in your personal or professional life, it may be that you aren’t serving your purpose.
What corrections can you make? Can you find new roles or projects at work? Can you find non work-related activities that can also help you serve your “why”.
Finding your purpose can bring greater joy into your life
Joy is an emotional state of being that grows from an internal sense of pleasure and contentment. Unlike happiness, it’s not predicated on external events, vulnerable to those events souring.
Joy lives in the same space as gratitude and peace. When you’re connected to your purpose, you can experience a sense of satisfaction and gratification that trigger joy. Feeling joy doesn’t mean that you’re happy in every moment. Your joy is secured in the knowing that you’re living in service of your greater purpose and connection to something bigger than you.
If you’re feeling stuck, confused, or uncertain, take a moment to reflect on your why. You might be surprised to find that having clarity in your purpose can dramatically shift your perception and your path forward.
Here’s an exercise to get you started clarifying your “why”.
When you have a quiet moment, grab a pen and some paper, or your laptop if you prefer typing. Answer this question, “If money and time were no object, what job would I be doing?”
This question will help you understand what you see yourself doing if the typical limits were removed. This vision forms the foundation for understanding your purpose.