How to Choose Your Purpose-Filled Career

By Leo Babauta

The other day, I was thinking about what advice I’d give to my teen-age son and nephew as they think about what work they want to do in the world, as they grow up … and at first, I thought of the usual ways people think about it …

When people think about choosing work that’s filled with purpose, they often do it in one of several ways:

  1. Think about what they like to do. If they like writing or playing video games or doing crafts, they might consider these things. This is not a bad way to go, of course, but you can’t always make money doing things you like (like video games, smoking pot or drinking beer). And sometimes things you like are better as a hobby or side passion.
  2. Think about what pays enough, that they can do, and that doesn’t sound so bad. Maybe a doctor, engineer, lawyer? Or maybe that’s out of your educational reach so you choose teacher, office work, retail worker or landscape work. These (and many other possibilities) are all great choices, but often it’s not something you’re really passionate about. It’s kind of like just doing something because it’s there – not very inspired.
  3. You’re already doing it. If you somehow got a job to make money but didn’t do it that consciously, because you had no idea what you want to do … you might still be doing that years later. It’s your default, so you keep doing it. That’s not super inspired either, because often you’re just clocking in.

So these common ways are not horrible ways to choose a career … but there’s another way that is (perhaps) better:

Try to do something to help others or make the world better, that you might enjoy.

Before you move on, consider the possibilities of serving others or making the world a better place:

And so on. Each of these are just one of many possibilities of making someone’s life better, of serving a community, of making the world better. Each of them is filled with purpose, and if you choose one of them for that purpose, you will serve in that work feeling a sense of purpose each day.

There are endless ways to do that, of course – you could be a manager that serves a team, a customer service representative that puts smiles on people’s faces, a web designer that helps businesses shine online, and so forth. The point isn’t how you serve the world, but just serving the world in some way will help you feel filled with purpose.

If you choose a purposeful job that also seems like fun, that seems enjoyable, you’re way further along than most people.

It doesn’t have to be a typical job, either. You can volunteer or create something that doesn’t exist in your area (a place for peace and relaxation, a place for adults to play, a place for animal lovers to connect to each other), you could just connect other people of similar interests and make their lives better through connection and community. These don’t seem like typical jobs, but I bet you that if you served people in these (and other) ways, you’ll eventually find a career doing that, a career that feels purposeful and beautiful. It can take awhile to actually make a living doing it, but it will very likely happen. And even if it doesn’t, you still served people in a wonderful way, and were happy doing it.