Disentangling your job from your purpose in life

Your work is not your purpose in life, writes therapist Mick Kubiak.

WorkingNation welcomes Mick Kubiak, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist as our featured writer for September. Kubiak specializes in parent counseling and life coaching. She is a mother, meditation teacher and lives in Los Angeles. This is the second article in the series.

This week, Kubiak discusses how people can separate their life’s purpose from employment. 

Mick Kubiak. Photo – Angus Ross

Many of us associate our job with our purpose in life. It’s so common, in fact, that often we are not even conscious of the fact that our job and our purpose in life are two separate things that sometimes overlap, and sometimes do not.

Believing that your job and your purpose in life are one and the same can be quite harmless, so long as nothing ever changes. As long as we have a lifelong guarantee of job stability and security, we can go on without ever suffering from this mistaken belief, and no real harm will come to us. Until we retire. that is. This is why retirement is so often associated with existential confusion if not outright despair.

Until we retire, that is – which is why retirement is so often associated with existential confusion – if not outright despair.

For better or for worse, many of us will experience the changing or ending of our job long before we leave or retire of our own free will, and we will handle this transition much more successfully if we are already engaged in questioning the questionable idea that our job and our purpose in life are inextricably bound.

Let’s say your purpose in life, when you really contemplate who you are and what matters to you, is serving people, who are longing to improve their self-esteem. Let’s say you are currently employed in a clothing store and you enjoy helping your customers to choose outfits that really flatter them. This job as a cashier and floor person provides you with the opportunity to connect with people, build relationships, reflect people their innate beauty, and help them dress in ways that emphasize their best qualities; in short, it allows you to express your purpose. If you lose that job and believe that job to be your purpose, you will be panicked and possibly depressed.

These negative feelings will be exacerbated if you try to find a job at another clothing store, and you discover that there are very few positions available in clothing stores anymore, and a lot of competition for those positions. Again, you will likely find yourself swirling in feelings of fear and hopelessness, and this will not help you.

RELATED STORY: On dealing with the shame of unemployment

If you try to solve your problem by looking for a job, rather than coming back to your purpose – that which gives your life meaning – you will suffer more than you should have to suffer.

Losing your current stream of income is stressful enough. Don’t add insult to injury by mistakenly associating that with losing your purpose. Unlike a job, your purpose belongs to you fundamentally and forever. No one can take it away from you. It may change over time, but it will always begin with you and nothing outside of you can ever take it away. It is exactly the anchor you will need to survive the stressors of job loss and job instability.

Using the above example, when you come to the realization that the job you’ve been doing may no longer be available to you, you will not despair, because you will return to your purpose and you will recognize that your purpose can be expressed in many possible jobs, including, just off the top of your head, blow out stylist; personal stylist; counselor/therapist; retailer at makeup counter; personal assistant; almost any position in customer service.

Another important point to remember is that for many people, their job and their purpose are not the same in that they use their job solely as a means to finance their true purpose in life, which may be raising children or fixing up vintage cars, or traveling the world. When this is the case, the work is figuring out the best way to make the most money for the least amount of hours spent working. It may be that this is now the case for you.

Given the current situation, does it make more sense to find another way to make money while you fulfill your purpose in other areas of your life?

Regardless of your current circumstances regarding employment, it can be a life-saving exercise to get clear about your purpose and to share it with someone you love who can remind you of it when you need reminding. In addition to providing much needed inner stability in the event that external circumstances shift in surprising ways, it can also function as a daily reminder of what matters most, because it’s easy to get distracted and forget.

It may be that you already know your life purpose, but if you don’t, there are many great resources to help you clarify what it is. Even if you do think you know, it is always good to check in and make sure that it’s still as vital as it was the day you discovered it. Don’t be lazy about this and be like, oh yeah, it’s to make people happy. Go deeper. Get more specific. Really dig for it.

When you hit it, you will feel something profound. Don’t stop until you do.

Coming Next Week: Kubiak writes about how reaching one’s prime can happen at any age.

Connect with Mick: Via email or by setting an appointment through 310-593-4216. Download the Evenflow app for Mick’s meditation training.