How to Know Your Purpose in Your Work: A simple exercise for clarity

Today’s post is written by Trey Roth, Founder & CEO of YayStack.

What would you say if someone were to ask you, “what do you do?” What would you say if they followed up with, “why do you do it?” Depending on the context and who’s asking, you may give a surface level response—“it pays the bills, I enjoy this and that about it” etc. Or you may be one of the rare few who smiles and shares how it brings joy to life. In any case, the question is a good one because it calls out “the reason for which something is done or created, or for which something exists,” which is the definition of purpose. Surface level answers are obvious, but the deeper we go beneath the surface, the less obvious the answers become. Why is it important to know them? The better we understand why we do anything, the better we do it, and the more joy it brings to life.

Far beneath the surface within you is a deeply rooted desire to have joy and therefore do what brings joy to life. Joy is what pulls you forward. But what does joy mean to you? Yes, there are common denominators, but everyone has their own set of unique ingredients based on their values. The same way pixels create an image of a television screen, all the reasons you do what you do come together to create a vision that pulls you forward. The more pixels, the clearer the vision, the stronger the pull, the faster your desires become reality, and the more joy you feel along the way. If each pixel is dull and colorless, the image isn’t very compelling, little action is taken, and results are lackluster. If every pixel is bright and vivid, your pull will be so strong that your movement forward at times feels effortless. And your image is your choice. No one chooses it for you. So own your autonomy and have fun in the process!

There are two sides of this coin. Both are equally important. One side is brand new and hot off the press. The other is aged and corroded. On the other side of joy is ultimately a broken heart. This is the pain that pushes you forward. Based on your life experience, your answer to the question, “what breaks my heart?” is directly linked to your purpose. It’s what you’ll find at the root of the problems you’re solving for yourself and for those you serve. Broken-heartedness is just as much a conduit of joy as joy itself. In other words, without its counterpart, joy would be meaningless. We wouldn’t even know when we had it. Contrast makes the experience of joy possible. That’s why every difficulty comes with a gift. (Most choose not to open). When we face our inevitable challenges and setbacks, we can appreciate the irony and counterintuitive truth hidden within each one, see how it’s there to serve us, and call it out for what it is— a conduit of joy.

People don’t do what they can do, they do what they can’t not do. In any given moment, you are able to do an unlimited number of activities. However, whatever you’re doing, no matter what it is, has passed the Can’t Not Threshold. Like reading this right now (thank you). Again, your Can’t Not Threshold is your choice—no one else’s—and it is determined by the vision you have chosen for your life. When you position yourself to be pulled powerfully by a clear understanding of what you want most, and pushed powerfully by what you want to avoid most, why you do what you do is very clear. The clearer the why, the easier the how.

Simple exercise: Let’s examine your coin.

  1. Draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper. On the top left, write “What Breaks My Heart.” On the top right, write “What Brings Joy to Life.” Or simply “Breaks Heart/ Brings Joy.”
  2. Write everything that comes to mind on both sides. Nothing’s off-limits. This is your “Purpose Purge.” And don’t be afraid to go deep and be specific, even about the smallest of details. These are the “pixels” that make up the image in your mind’s eye that pulls you toward what you want and away from what you want to avoid. When you think you’re done, keep going. When you think you’re done again, keep going again. Sometimes the largest diamonds are buried the deepest and require the most digging. A high level example of mine is that the problem of unshared/disorganized referrals resonates with me and it is a joy to grow a platform as a remedy. Then that breaks down into specifics.
  3. Stop and read both sides aloud to help internalize the words. As Think and Grow Rich covers at length, the more these words are “well mixed with emotion,” the greater impact they have on your life. Be expressive and let emotion do what it does best—sear the memory.
  4. Do something to celebrate in advance the positive outcomes to follow. Expect to elevate your performance and results. Know you have increased awareness and greater clarity of your purpose. You now have your reasons why you do what you do clearly defined and clear in your mind. You now have greater ability to love your work and life for what it is, whatever it is. Remember, what we appreciate appreciates.

So the next time someone asks you why you do what you do, smile and start with “it brings joy to life…”