(excerpt from upcoming book for high-achievers) Often the discontent you feel from your work stems from two factors: 1) expecting your job to fulfill your need for meaning, which it may do but you aren’t sure because 2) you confuse your need for recognition with your desire to feel fulfilled. You have to identify and set aside the first factor, your need for recognition, before you can define what gives you meaning.
When people thank you for your contribution, you might think you feel fulfilled when you are just pleased that they noticed how much you know and how hard you worked. Not only will your pleasure be fleeting but you will find out that people are fickle when it comes to saying thanks. You might get a standing ovation from one group for your speech and the next day, a few head nods from a different audience. Therefore, you shouldn’t use applause, praise and smiles to dictate your purpose. You need a consistent theme that serves to focus your energy regardless of other people’s opinions and actions.
Your sense of purpose comes from the joy you feel when you are doing something, not from the amount of gratitude other people feel when you are done. The process of helping someone else make the right career choices, of delivering a workshop, of helping your neighbor, or of teaching a child might feed your sense of fulfillment. The thanks you get for the end result is the icing on the cake that feeds your needs. However, even if you don’t care if people say thank you, it’s often difficult for you to stay centered when you receive a bad evaluation of your work.
Sometimes you will take a poor or lackluster review so personally that you feel betrayed and wish to end the relationship. If you let a less-than stellar evaluation steer you away from your life’s work, it may take years before you rediscover what ignites your passion. When instead, you passionately live with a strong sense of purpose, you can remember what is most important to you even when you are upset. Your purpose becomes your guiding light that keeps you moving forward on your Hero’s Journey.
Louisa May Alcott said, “Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” When you stand strongly in the light of your purpose, approval by others downgrades from a need to a “nice to have.”