Remember when you were graduating college and you had to face the reality of your career head on? You likely stood at a crossroads wondering which direction would ultimately lead you to a place of balance in your life. After all, a meaningful career connects passion and function, helps you pay the bills, and feel fulfilled at the same time.
Do you ever wonder if you took the wrong path in life? You’re not alone.
It’s natural to always be looking for the next career step, even if you’ve recently achieved an important milestone. Researchers refer to this as hedonic adaptation. Right when we experience some positive change in our lives–whether it’s a promotion or a new home–we enjoy an unparalleled level of bliss before we float back down to reality. We cycle through this behavior repeatedly, searching for self-worth and self-clarity.
We do this because feelings of validation make us happier and healthier human beings. Recent research tests this theory, suggesting that we are genetically hardwired to seek our true passion in life. Upon discovery, we benefit both from stronger health and from a clearer mind.
We all strive to have a purpose in life, to change one small facet of humanity while we’re here. It turns out that this pursuit of happiness is what drives us forward through life, and it’s worth putting in the sweat and tears to get ever closer to our purpose.
Last month, research from Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai Roosevelt found having a high sense of purpose in life lowers a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke. Previous research from the authors linked a person’s purpose, or a sense of meaning and direction, to stronger psychological health. However, this new body of work shows that finding purpose in life reduces death from all causes by 23%, and reduces a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke by 19%.
Lesson: Take your passions seriously–it might be a matter of life or death if you choose to ignore them.
When we are able to connect what we do to pay the bills with our greater purpose, we benefit from higher self-clarity and self-esteem, or worth.
According to research published in January 2015 from the University of Buffalo, when we achieve self-clarity, our overall performance and happiness increases significantly. But how do we get there?
The research notes that to understand how to achieve self-clarity, we first need to understand the difference between it and improved self-esteem. The latter defines our overall worth, while self-clarity refers to how we see our life unfolding in the future. If we’re unsure as to the direction we’re going–whether personally or professionally–then we suffer from a low sense of self-clarity.
Lesson: Set goals and develop a process for how to achieve those goals. The more detailed your road map to success, the happier and healthier you’ll be in life.
By now, we understand that finding purpose and connecting it to our work makes us smarter, healthier, and happier. But how can we go about discovering passion and purpose when we’re unsure of where we want to take our career in the first place?
It’s as easy as starting with separating your intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. If you’ve never taken time to learn about yourself, then that’s the first step. Extrinsic motivators are the tangible takeaways you get from performing a task, while intrinsic motivators are the feelings you enjoy during the process.
Many people are afraid to pursue their passions because of the work it takes to get started. A quick rule of thumb: if the process is what scares you, then you’re not as passionate about your work as you thought.
That’s why many people embark on personal journeys to discover their true sense of purpose. In some cases, what you’re passionate about may not be an activity or topic you engage with regularly. Therefore, you have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations to discover new interests that may lead you to a lifelong career of happiness.
Your pursuit of self-clarity and purpose won’t take a linear path. In fact, you will often head down roads that lead to nowhere. It’s important to accept that–no matter where you are in your career–the unknown is often as exciting as the final destination.
From my experience, the people who are most happy with the work they do daily are the ones who value the process as much as the prize. There’s that famous idiom about the importance of “just showing up,” but the people who go beyond the status quo are the ones who find the passion somewhere in their lives.
It’s up to you to discover what pushes you forward. Learn to embrace the process as much as the reward and you’ll walk away with a clear vision, a healthier heart, and a sharper mind.