How to Change Careers to Social Impact: Step 2 – Zero In On Your Purpose

Alexandra Nemeth

Content Marketing Manager at MovingWorlds.org

To truly make an impact and find fulfillment in your career, two things need to be true: You need to be working in a way that aligns with your purpose, and you need to work in a place that gives you the opportunity to exercise your strengths. Last week, we shared how to complete step one: auditing your strengths. In this post, we’ll walk you through step two: zeroing in on your purpose. 

Purpose matters because it’s a key component of meaning. According to the American Psychological Association, “finding meaning in one’s work has been shown to increase motivation, engagement, empowerment, career development, job satisfaction, individual performance and personal fulfillment, and to decrease absenteeism and stress.” Taken together, your strengths and purpose form the foundation for the rest of your job search, acting as a compass to ensure you’re heading in the right direction to end up somewhere where you can truly thrive. 

Defining Purpose

Purpose is the reason we work, beyond financial rewards or recognition, and is often experienced as a deep sense of fulfillment. It exists at the overlap of seeing the impact of your work on an entity you care about, using your strengths to create that impact, and contributing to something bigger than yourself.

It’s also important to understand what purpose is not: it isn’t tied to a single cause, it isn’t a job, it isn’t exclusively something available to those with privilege, and it isn’t something only discovered via a moment of epiphany. Rather, purpose is that internal sense of pride that results in the internal motivation to keep going and keep improving, even when things are hard.

The Imperative Framework: 3 Purpose Drivers

One of our favorite frameworks for thinking about purpose was developed by Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy and Co-Founder of Imperative. In it, purpose is broken down along three dimensions, called purpose drivers, which answer the following questions:

  1. WHO do you work to benefit?
  2. WHY do you do the work?
  3. HOW do you do the work?

Your first driver defines who you are inspired to impact. Imperative’s research shows that people get the most energy from working to impact one of three specific entities:

  • Individuals: If you think back on the moments that warmed your heart, what made you the most proud? Was it when you helped a specific person? Was it when you worked directly with an individual?
  • Organizations: When you talk about the work that you are most proud of, do you consistently talk about how you made a team or organization better? Are you most motivated to do things that help teams accomplish more? Do you use “we” a lot?
  • Society: Are you most driven to change big, hard, society-level problems?

Your second driver defines why you want to make an impact. This driver shows that people are most motivated to have an impact on others for one of two reasons, both of which are centered on how they believe the world works:

  • Karma: You believe that people who work hard should benefit, and although you will do everything you can to set people up for success, you also believe that their own drive and competition are important to create a better world.
  • Harmony: You believe that all people should be equal and have the same access to opportunities.

Your third driver defines how you want to make an impact using your unique strengths and talents. According to Imperative, there are four main drivers in this category:

  • HUMAN: Do you enjoy exploring human experiences and contexts to provide authentic and tailor-made solutions, putting the customer / end-user at the center of attention?
  • COMMUNITY: Do you bring all stakeholders together to find the best and most innovative solutions, creating communities in order to address issues and look at different angles and perspectives?
  • STRUCTURE: Do you put new tools, systems, and structures in place to solve problems, advance outdated or inefficient processes, and think lean?
  • KNOWLEDGE: Do you engage in extensive research to really understand the current situation and uncover new knowledge, ideas, and perspectives?

Understanding your purpose and engaging in work that speaks to your who, why, and how drivers will not only lead to greater feelings of fulfillment in your own life, but it will also put you in a position to advance more quickly and make a meaningful impact that lasts. 

That’s why in the MovingWorlds Institute, our approach to social impact starts from within. One of the first things Global Fellows do in our program is take the Imperative purpose assessment to understand their customized purpose profile. But even without the assessment, you can still learn more about each dimension and make an educated guess about which drivers are most true for you. From there, you have an excellent starting point for the first draft of your purpose statement, which as you can see in the example below links together who you’re driven to impact, how you create that impact, and why:

Making Your Purpose Statement Your Own

The best way to start drafting, workshopping, and refining your own purpose statement is to set aside some time to put pen to paper, without distractions. To help you do that, we’ve developed a free purpose statement exercise, which you can access here

Once you’ve identified the who, how, and why drivers that feel most authentic to you from the Imperative model, step one is to rewrite each dimension in your own words. To see what that looks like in practice, let’s look at an example of someone whose ‘who’ driver is society, ‘why’ driver is harmony, and ‘how’ driver is community. Re-written, that could look like:

Next, reflect on the three biggest peaks and valleys in your life. Even if you’ve just identified them for the first time, your purpose drivers likely emerged early in your life and have been present throughout your career. They show up most vividly when you reflect on moments when you pulled out of a valley and began to ascend to a new peak.

Taking the time to reflect on these significant moments can help you notice connections, ask different questions, and ultimately draft a purpose statement that reflects your unique voice and experience. The quality of the purpose statement draft you write in the final step will be a function of how much time and energy you’re willing to put into wrestling with these dimensions and connecting them to your life experiences, vocabulary, and aspirations. 

Test, Iterate, Repeat

Remember that your purpose statement is not a static thing; it can evolve over time, just like you. The most important thing you can do to develop a strong purpose statement is to put the time and energy into self-reflection, then test it, iterate, and repeat! Your purpose statement isn’t just something that you write down on a piece of paper to be forgotten in a drawer somewhere.

Take advantage of opportunities to share the draft you’re workshopping as you attend networking events, have coffee chats, or introduce yourself to a new group of people for the first time. Share what you’ve got so far with your friends and family, people who know you well and can give you honest feedback based on what they’ve observed in you. The more you practice it, the more natural it will feel, and the more confident you will feel in owning your unique purpose. 

For more individualized support uncovering and aligning your purpose with your career, apply to the MovingWorlds Institute. Applications for our last Global Fellowship cohort of the year close on September 30th. 

And be sure to follow this new blog series, #SocialImpactCareerGuide, to see more tips on how to find a more fulfilling job that puts your strengths and purpose to work to build a better world.