What do you want to be when you grow up? Finding your purpose.
The question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, has plagued me my entire life.
Because unlike so many people, I couldn’t point to that one thing bound to be my destiny. I couldn’t hone in on one passion, one talent, that would point me in the direction meant solely and definitively for me.
I am good at some things, I like doing many of them, and I’m passionate about a few that won’t quite pay my bills. I was a great student – all As in high school, honors in college, studied abroad, pursued my MBA, which led to a job in brand management at Kellogg Company, plotting a course for international business.
I checked off all the boxes. And yet.
When one purpose outweighs another
While that kind of corporate, big-brand work satisfied some of my skills and talents, it didn’t light me on fire. At that point, starting a family held more meaning for me than continuing the path I was on.
For a lot of people, career and family are not mutually exclusive. For me, the cost/benefit analysis of working full-time in a demanding job that involved frequent travel and long hours, commuting an hour one-way from home on Michigan freeways, wasn’t worth it.
I employed the Deathbed Decision: would I be happier knowing I sold one more waffle, or that I had been present for my kids?
Shortly after my first daughter was born, I resigned, certain that when I reentered the workforce, it would be in a different capacity. I knew I was better suited for nonprofit, mission-driven work.
During my 18 years at home, raising three kids, I wondered what I was going to be when I grew up. I said that jokingly, but in my heart of hearts, I truly didn’t know.
I did know that I was meant to do something. I had skills and talents that were uniquely mine for a reason. I just couldn’t put my finger on what that reason was.
When ‘Love What You Do’ pushes your purpose – International Women’s Day
This journey of cross purposes affects many women. This month we celebrate International Women’s Day, whose focus is finding #BalanceForBetter, referring to gender parity for a better working world.
The idea that women should be better represented in media, the workplace, sports, earnings, education, government, leadership – is a good one. But what of the women who choose to opt out like I did? What if the workplace doesn’t align with their sense of purpose?
I recently stumbled across this article in The Atlantic that explores what it means for women to work for financial security vs. working for love of the job. The authors interviewed women in many camps, and I saw myself in some of them.
All those years ago, I had a great job that paid lots of bills, but ultimately didn’t fulfill my desire to be a hands-on mom. I was more motivated by the purpose and meaning of what I do, than the money it brings, and so despite being the bigger breadwinner, my husband and I planned and invested so we could live as a family on his salary.
And yet, called to be something “when I grow up,” I found ways to put my skills to better use. I consulted for a faith-based nonprofit, managed my husband’s grant project, served as a volunteer hands-on member of the board for a grassroots immigration legal services nonprofit – and won National Volunteer of the Year for it.
I still felt the stress of not knowing what I wanted to be. I was all grown up, my kids becoming more self-sufficient, my “mom friends” reentering the workforce to careers they held before their family hiatus.
One day, my husband heard an interview on NPR, and he said, “Honey – it’s not about being a career person. It’s about being a person of purpose.”
There it was. What I wanted to be when I grew up. What I already was.
Everything I did to this point – learning, traveling, working, mothering, advocating, soul-searching. It all had purpose. It was my “why.” I just couldn’t see it because I was busy pursuing and lamenting, without realizing I had been defining my purpose all along.
I didn’t want to sell one more item, launch a new product, or knock a competitor off the shelf. I wanted to articulate a mission, bring it to life, compel an audience to engage in order to make the world a better place.
It seems I wasn’t alone in this discovery. According to a 2016 study by Net Impact, 41% of respondents identified a strong interest in pursuing a career with for-profit companies if they could still make a social impact through their work.
It was a no-brainer, then, when Lynne Golodner invited me to coffee and told me about Your People, LLC – her mission-driven business messaging, marketing and media relations firm, focused on building business through storytelling, relationships and higher purpose. I jumped at the chance to work on a team that helps clients articulate and drive their mission forward.
Every one of our clients, from traditional nonprofit social service agency Samaritas, to veteran-owned industrial contractors Progressive Mechanical, has some aspect of higher purpose in what they do or how they do it.
Equally enticing was the fact that this time, work and family didn’t have to be mutually exclusive concepts. I could be the person of purpose I wanted to be – both at work and at home.
This month, as we think about the equal presence of women, let’s also think about our pursuit of purpose. Purpose as an employee. Purpose as a mother. Purpose as a wage earner. Purpose as a leader. Purpose as a mentor. Purpose as someone making a difference.
Kirstin Karoub is Vice President, Operations & Strategy, for Your People LLC.