Your Job is NOT your Purpose

I was sitting on the couch watching tv church on Youtube about a month ago. I’ve got my tea in one hand and my husband’s hand in the other. My pastor started talking about the pressure he has felt to meet the world’s expectations and how hard it is to stay true to your calling. I could not agree more.

And then he shared his big revelation: “I’m a pastor,” he says, “It’s my purpose!”

That’s when I lost it. I dropped my husband’s hand, slam my tea onto the coffee table, and started yelling at the screen.

“No, it’s not! “Pastor” is not your purpose, it’s your role!”

My husband wasn’t fazed. He knows that I’m on a mission to help people do meaningful work so they can be all they are meant to be. He smiles because he knows that I get really mad when someone says something, especially in front of a boatload of people, that stands in the way of that mission.



Your role is not your purpose. Whether you’re a banker, editor, or even a pastor, your job is WHAT you do, not WHY you exist. Your purpose is big enough to include all your roles and responsibilities—husband, wife, mom, dad, brother, sister, friend, neighbor, worker—but it is not bound by any of them.

Your purpose is bigger than any WHAT. It’s also broader than any WHO or any WHERE.



Sometimes we think our purpose is defined by those around us, the WHOs in our lives. This is especially true for caretaking professions like nurses, teachers, and parents. When your job involves serving people up close and personal, it’s easy to let their wishes become your WHY. You respond to needs, stay alert to desires, and care for them in any way you can.

But a WHO is not your purpose either. Those that you serve might be recipients of your purpose, but they don’t define your purpose. God does. You are here for a reason, wired with specific strengths and certain gifts by your Creator, to live out His purpose for you. When you allow a WHO to determine your WHY, you’ve crossed over into codependency and allowed someone else’s behavior to determine yours. Not good.



Sometimes it’s not WHAT you do, that gets in the way, as much as WHERE you are going. This is common for driven professionals who classify their work as a career. When you think in terms of WHERE you’re headed, it’s easy to become hyper-focused on results and lose sight of the process.

WHEREs make you feel accomplished and busy. They provide a clear path to advancement and a great sense of accomplishment. The problem is that a WHERE is like a hamster wheel that never lets you off. You can’t stop pursuing your WHERE or you won’t know who you are. Your identity has become entangled in the pursuit or attainment of a goal, not in meaningful work.



Your purpose is not a WHAT, WHO, or WHERE. Your purpose is a WHY. It explains what you are here to accomplish that you have been equipped to do. Your personality, core values, and vision for the world all speak to your WHY.

Your purpose is the story of your heart. It’s the story your life is supposed to tell if you don’t get caught up in WHATs, WHOs, or WHEREs. An understanding of your purpose starts with self-knowledge. What are your signature strengths? What are your meaningful motivators? It’s so important to know what you are all about because your design points to your purpose. But self-discovery is not a means to an end. Self-help is meant to lead to others-help, the unique contribution you are here to make.

potential is found in purpose


Your purpose is all about others and coincidentally, your purpose is the most direct way to tap your highest potential. In his book, Big Potential, positive psychologist, Shawn Achor describes several ways to hit your highest potential, a topic in which I’m fascinated.

We used to think that extrinsic rewards like salaries and incentive plans could motivate employees to tap potential, but that proved to be short-lived. Then we turned to intrinsic motivators like interest, challenge, and opportunities for advancement. But that too fell short. What we’ve found is that full potential and top performance are unleashed when you make your work about purpose, contributing to others.

Take the time now to define your purpose. When you do, you’ll be able to make your job a calling, a great place to live your WHY.

Purposeful Work


If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to find purposeful work, check out our new digital course, Career Kickstart: 30 Days to Your Ideal Job.