By Lynne Golodner
I didn’t start out on my career path, or even my advanced education, with purpose in mind.
On the contrary. I went to college to meet boys, make friends, and get out from under the thumb of over-protective parents. Higher learning and lofty aspirations came later.
Purpose wasn’t a word I used until well into adulthood. When I was growing up, we were taught to choose a career so we could earn a living, build a life, buy a house, start a family. It was a means to an end – something we could do, perhaps uniquely, or maybe not, and we would get paid for it. Plain and simple. Nothing glamorous whatsoever.
I’ve spent my whole life writing, never thinking it had purpose. When I first began on my career path, I honestly thought writing was a hobby, not something to build into a living. But as I pondered the available career paths – Medicine? Not good at science. Law? Too many lawyers, was my 18-year-old thinking. Business? I guess… And all the while, I was writing.
At the college newspaper. Freelancing for local publications. Part-time jobs where I found ways to write and communicate. And one day, it occurred to me that all this communicating and writing that I loved and which came so easily to me could actually be a career.
I set big goals for myself: Publish a book before I was 30. Write for national publications. I accomplished both in my mid-20s and wondered what to do next. Purpose still was not a part of the conversation.
As I approached 40, the possibility of purpose floated before my eyes. Why was I working so hard every day – beyond just wanting to keep a roof over my kids’ heads and put food on the table? The age of 40 seemed to be a beacon, a wake-up call, alerting me that if I wasn’t making a difference in my daily life, I’d better get started, and soon.
After all, 40 was a sort of midpoint in life, a halfway mark. What was it all for?
Recently, while binging on the Showtime hit, “The Affair,” with my husband, a scene with the character Vik struck me as perfectly articulating my fascination with purpose. (Spoiler alert ahead!)
Diagnosed with a dismal prognosis, Vik breaks down in the arms of a seductive neighbor. Head in hands, he says, “I’m 45 years old and everything I’ve done is either to please my parents or to rebel against them. I’m 45 years old, and I’ve never done anything just for me.”
How many of us can say the same?
We work hard every day with the hope that some day, in the distant future, we will be able to sit back, put up our feet, and ease off the gas. We’ll be able to travel, sometime in the future, when the kids are grown and we’ve saved enough money and there is enough time to finally enjoy life.
Except, living for “some day” is not a great plan. In a recent New York Times article, a mother of five learns she has stage 4 lung cancer and the some-day life she had planned for herself is disappearing into thin air. She takes her last months to spend time alone with each child. The article is brutal to read because it reminded me that what we take for granted, what we assume, may never actually materialize.
Which is why living with purpose and finding purpose in the work we do every day is so essential.
We must know our why. Use it like a compass, a north star, guiding us in making decisions. Take a job or work from home? Commute three hours every day, or ride a bike to work? Find a way to be able to duck out midday to chaperone a child’s field trip or cheer them on at the soccer field. The time is now. There is nothing else.
My why has always been my family and nature. In my 20s, I left a full-time journalism job to become a freelance writer because I always worked in buildings where the windows did not open. I never knew whether the sun shone or the rain trickled down during the day.
In New York, in Washington, D.C., in suburban Detroit, I went to work before the sun blazed bright, and left as it sank below the horizon. I lived my days in the stuffy air of a newsroom, and I yearned for the freedom to rollerblade down the street in the sunlit afternoon or catch a matinee movie with a big bucket of gooey popcorn.
That freedom came with a price – a price I was willing to pay. I wanted to livemore than support my life. When I first went freelance, I worked from dawn until late in the night some days, but I also had control over what I did with my time. And, I had the possibility to earn more than I could have imagined when someone else assigned me a salary.
My purpose was to build a life of meaning and wonder, a life I truly enjoyed living. And I’ve never looked back.
The work we do today at Your People, which is several evolutions past that early freelance career, is meaningful work with carefully-vetted clients who truly make a difference in the world. We help them find their organizational voices. We help them articulate their missions in digestible ways to connect with their ideal audiences.
We make matches of a sort, between well-meaning organizations and their eager clientele, insisting that mutual benefit is a key component in any formula for success.
What’s in it for you? What’s in it for me? What is the inherent purpose in what we do every day?
We work with Fred Astaire Dance Studio– they bring joy, fitness, and connection to people.
We work with Waldorf schools – they protect innocence, prolong childhood, and empower children to love learning and feel good about who they are, which makes the whole world a much better place.
We work with Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, a divorce attorney who carved out a new approach to family law, being mediative, which means truly looking at the best interests of all people involved, and understanding that divorce is a transition from one stage of life to another – not an ending, nor a beginning.
We work with Progressive Mechanical and Rival Insulation and Systematic Manufacturing, industrial companies led by thoughtful, creative, passionate leaders who care deeply about building systems and processes that make the world more efficient and healthy.
We work with Special Tree, a family-owned brain injury rehabilitation company that cares so deeply about its clients, it’s like an ever-bigger family.
And we produce the Make Meaning podcast, featuring passionate people who care about the work they do, the meaning they create, the purpose they put out into the world.
I ask myself routinely if the work I do makes a difference, feeds my soul, and helps others. If the answer to all three is yes, then I know my purpose is intact.
I wake up each morning, believing the work I do helps improve the world. I find time to put pen to paper, to kiss my children, to close my eyes and wonder at the beauty of this life. I know my why – and if I ever lose sight of it, I know it’s time to go back to the blank canvas and ask those important questions that make this life worth living, this work worth doing.
What is your purpose? And how can we help you get there?
Lynne Golodner is Chief Creative Officer and Founder of Your People LLC. She is the author of eight published books, the mother of four teenagers, an avid swimmer, and lives in Huntington Woods, Michigan with her family.