Purpose: If you don't know where you are going, how will you know when you've got there?
You didn't get the job. Or perhaps you just got turned down for that promotion. How do you feel? Frustrated? Cheated? Demoralized? What do you tell yourself? Its right back to square one...I wished I had never bothered...I'm just stuck where I am...And what do you actually do? Go back to the drawing board? File away the experience as a write off? Or maybe turn your attention to a completely different career area?
All of these are perfectly natural reactions to disappointment, but remember how I (rather tritely) finished last month's article on resilience? I reminded you of that hackneyed truism - 'there's no such thing as failure'. What if you could reframe this setback, acknowledge it as a point of progress along your career route and see it purely in constructive learning terms?
To do this you need a clear sense of purpose. That is, you know where you are going (and why) and have a rough route map of how you are going to get there.
'Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction', John F. Kennedy
Ivan Robertson and Cary Cooper are the two eminent professors of organisational psychology who are behind i-resilience, an online diagnostic comprising a validated personality questionnaire. The i-resilience report will reveal which of the four key components you naturally draw on for resilience - confidence, adaptability, purposefulness and the need for social support. This in turn will allow you to leverage your natural affinities and strengthen your weaker ones. We will be coming back to i-resilience throughout this programme, but here's how they describe the significance of purposefulness.
'Having a clear sense of purpose, clear values, drive and direction help individuals to persist and achieve in the face of setbacks'
Purposefulness simply means having a purpose; and in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, a purpose is 'the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists'.
Skills for skills sake or investing for a purpose?
Picking up the earlier example. What was your reason for going for that role? If you understand how it ties into your purpose then you can extract some valuable learning from what a first sight seems simply a failure. So for example, what did the assessment process tell you about your competency level? Perhaps it can help you identify and remedy a skills gap, at a much finer level of detail that would have been possible without the experience.
But before you take action, you need to do a quick self audit on the 'why'. Will the proposed action move you in the strategic direction you want to go, towards that dream job? Or is it just going to add another bullet to your CV? And if it is the latter, if you truly want to achieve your purpose, have you really got time to invest in a wasting asset?
'I Have a Dream' Martin Luther King, Jr. 1963
To establish your sense of purpose, you need to have a purpose, a vision or a dream, so you need to start big. Research suggests that the most resilient of us will have a picture of what we want to achieve in our lifetime and it will be written down. This is the destination of your journey and it might be blurred but there will be some shape to it. This is your check point that holds you on track, keeps you going and helps to answer the 'why' when the going gets tough. An effective, albeit macabre, way of putting it is, what do you want in your eulogy?
Goals are the fuel in the furnace of achievement, Brian Tracy, Eat that Frog
Our professional goals enable us to make the connections to the bigger picture and fulfil our purpose. Beyond this, we should set goals to maintain our sense of purpose on a day to day basis. Realistic but challenging goal setting is critical to resilience; those with the vaguer aspirations (‘I just want to get a better job') tend to be less successful.
Here are some pointers on goal setting, from the Robertson Cooper resilience portal:
- Set moderately difficult goals – challenging, but not impossible;
- Write down the goals and regularly monitor progress;
- Use short-term goals to achieve long-term ones;
- Ensure goals are internalized – so you accept and feel in control of your goals;
- Consider your personality in goal setting. Do you like the cut and thrust of competition or prefer working slowly towards a target;
- Set positive goals as opposed to negative goals (rather than 'I'll never work for the public sector again', try 'I'll expand my career view to new sectors');
- Seek support in achieving your goals from others, friends, family, colleagues and peers, as well as the wealth of online resource.
If purpose is the destination then goals create your map. It won't be a static route, the environment will change and you will course correct from time to time. But to maintain resilience we need high levels of determination, and determination requires focus - on goal, task or purpose.
And why do we need resilience again? Well, let me take you back to part one. Resilience is the magic ingredient that enables us, not only to survive, but to thrive, to grow and develop and return to form, fortified, stronger and wiser for the experience. Now wouldn't that be a good outcome for a job rejection?
A sense of purpose provides a strong foundation for building resilience and lest you forget, here's our old friend Nietzsche again:
'To forget one's purpose is the commonest form of stupidity'.
Carol McLachlan FCA
Carol McLachlan, theaccountantscoach, is a qualified accountant, NLP Practitioner and professionally qualified coach. Her 18 year career at Ernst and Young in Audit and Assurance as a client handler and as Director of Resources has equipped her with a real understanding of the professional and personal issues that auditors face.
As theaccountantscoach she works in partnership with individuals and organisations - quite simply - helping them to be the very best they can be. She has helped accountants and auditors move from employment to entrepreneurial pursuits, prepare for their next promotion, become inspiring leaders and engaging presenters and manage their work life balance. Carol writes and lectures extensively on a wide range of professional development topics and is currently researching 'CPD in accountancy' for her master's degree.
For the agony aunt service on career issues, contact Carol here