Your Career Doesn’t Need to Have a Purpose

SvetaZi/Getty images

In a recent article from the Harvard Business Review , Stephen Friedman an Adjunct Professor of Organizational Studies and a Senior Faculty of Executive Education, at The Schulich School of Business, York University in Toronto argues that “finding purpose” is much harder than people make it out to be. Friedman shares that a pivot to finding “meaning” might be a better way to finding a rewarding career.


Outside of popular anecdotes and social media stories, there is little evidence that a single, defined “purpose” is necessary for a rewarding career. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. It’s surprisingly common to go after what we think is our purpose only to discover that we hate it. Instead, shift your focus from “purpose” to “meaning.”

Ask yourself:

  • What do I like, prefer, or enjoy doing? Let go of yearning for a career purpose. Dial it back and consider what you liked about any of your previous jobs, school projects or other ways you spend your time. Perhaps you liked helping your peers organize their work or enjoyed researching sources for group projects. Or maybe you liked working on a team than alone. Use that as a starting point. 
  • What am I good at? Early on in your career, you will have many bourgeoning skills. These are skills that you are good at now and can get even better at with more practice. Think about stuff you are progressively getting better at. Getting to use and improve skills that you’re already good will energize you, and provide you with a feeling of recognition and usefulness.
  • Would this role provide growth and learning that I can use later? Research shows that what scholars call “ability development” (i.e. getting better at what you do) brings with it greater happiness, satisfaction, and meaning.
By Greg Victory (he/him/his)
Greg Victory (he/him/his) Assistant VP Student Affairs/Fannie Mitchell Executive Director, Career Center