The Unexpected Challenge of Living a Purpose-Driven Life
‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’
A much-loved quote that has likely led most of us into the purpose-driven fields of work that we find ourselves in. However, what you may not know is that it disguises a surprising, hidden cost to leading a purpose-driven life.
The chronic physical and emotional exhaustion often comes from the emotionally labour-intensive nature of purpose-driven work. Purpose fatigue presents itself in the same way as ‘normal’ fatigue. However, unlike normal fatigue, purpose fatigue can often feel more emotionally draining and demoralising since it is linked to your purpose — something which in many cases defines your sense of identity.
Young People Are at The Greatest Risk of Purpose Fatigue
We are more socially aware and compelled to solve both local and global challenges in our communities, and we are also twice as entrepreneurial as Baby Boomers. Additionally, the prevalence of smartphones means that many young people have never known a world where their work and personal lives were truly separated, meaning our ability to reinforce boundaries between the two is underwhelming, to say the least.
The world is in desperate need of purpose-driven leaders to step up and help create a more just, equitable and sustainable future. In light of this ‘call to arms’, it is essential that we learn to adequately manage the unique nature of purpose-driven work, and the risk of purpose fatigue. This, we hope, will mean less late night self-soothing Netflix binge sessions, and instead an increase in the physical, emotional and spiritual health of purpose-driven leaders, to ensure that they don’t sacrifice themselves for their own cause.
We, the Foundations for Tomorrow team, are elbow deep in our purpose-driven journey. So, we wanted to share some lessons that we’ve learnt so far on how best to manage this.
1. Uniting in Our Diversity
Ah — the blame game. It’s tempting and far too easy to participate in. But, the reality is that it gets us nowhere. Productive accountability is great, but harbouring blame without productive action does little to help us progress.
This ‘us v them’ mentality comes from our evolutionary need to belong to groups as a means to survive, and ultimately flourish. This mentality is inherently rooted in competition, where one group flourishes and the other loses. As humans, anyone who is different can seem like a threat to our own group’s survival, triggering our fight or flight response (even if only from behind a screen).
We must realise that, if we are truly trying to create equitable social impact, this mentality just won’t cut it.
In the impact world, we are too often all ‘fighting’ against other groups, organisations and communities for limited resources, funding, market share, and consumer attention. This constant competition, anxiety and pressure, whether it be direct or indirect, inherently leads to fatigue and burnout.
However, at the end of the day, we all share a common goal which is to make a positive social impact in our communities. It is essential therefore that we unite in our diversity and exploit what we have in common. It can be difficult to share space and resources with other people and institutions that appear to share contradictory views to us, however in doing so, we can lessen the emotional burden of competition, as well as achieve our goals more effectively.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Be The Odd One Out With The Big Idea
Burnout and fatigue are often the result of stagnation and a lack of stimulation in your work. As a result, one of the best ways to climb out of purpose fatigue is to develop new ideas.
As youth, it is all too common to feel like you are not being taken seriously and that your ideas will be dismissed due to a lack of experience or knowledge.
However, purpose-driven work depends on innovation — after all, we are trying to change the status-quo — and every big idea that has changed the world seemed a little odd at first. It is important that we develop the confidence to stand up for our ideas, and tread a path that no one before us has.
3. Empathy For Ourselves and Others
Empathy is at the core of purpose-driven or compassion-driven leadership. However, ironically, many purpose-driven leaders fail to practise empathy towards themselves or the people around them.
When you are a purpose-driven leader, your goal or purpose can be a significant part of your identity. As a result, any roadblocks or hindrances towards achieving those goals can challenge your sense of self worth.
However, world-changing success simply does not come without failure. Failure is a part of the journey of every purpose-driven leader and, in fact, serves an important role as a barometer for whether you are reaching your goals in the most effective way possible.
Purpose driven leaders must learn to embrace failure, either from themselves or the people around them. To do this they must develop empathy.
So how do you do this?
At the core of empathy is self-care. One cannot be compassionate or empathetic towards others without being compassionate towards oneself.
Self-care doesn’t have to only be Lush bath bombs, meditation or cups of tea. Self-care can also look like:
- Setting healthy boundaries between you and your work.
- Asking for help when you need it.
- Practising forgiveness.
- Planning your day effectively, and creating and maintaining schedules.
- Practising ‘useless’ hobbies that do not directly benefit your work.
4. One Person Cannot Do It All
As we’ve mentioned above, purpose-driven work depends on collaborations and partnerships. You cannot help your communities without engaging your communities.
We all need to check out ego at the door and realise that no one person can solve the problems we now face. We need to be ready and willing to collaborate, support each other and be supported in our efforts to improve our world.
And we at Foundations for Tomorrow know this all too well. We’re currently in the middle of a nine-week campaign to collect 10,000 responses from Australian youth on how a post-COVID Australia should look like. It’s a huge task, and as much as we would love to claim at the end that we did it ourselves, we gratefully depend on aligned partners and supporters to help us reach our goals.
In fact, we’re going to shamelessly take a minute right now to practice what we preach. We are on the lookout for organisations and individuals who would like to join us in this campaign. If you would like to know more about what we do, to partner or collaborate with us, or even be one of the 10,000 voices that will shape our post-COVID future, click here. We hope to hear from you!
About the authors: Indrani Kothiya and Taylor Hawkins are Global Shapers with the World Economic Forum.